Merkel takes oath as German leader

She is nation's first female chancellor


BERLIN -- Angela Merkel, a pastor's daughter known for her ambition, capped a remarkable rise through German politics yesterday by becoming the nation's first female chancellor and the first to have grown up in what was then communist East Germany.

The 51-year-old conservative, the youngest person to reach the chancellor's office, will lead Europe's largest economy as head of a fragile coalition that faces high unemployment, low growth and problems with the welfare state. Less a charismatic campaigner than a sober tactician, Merkel is expected to rely on her gift of persuasion to keep the government from splintering along party lines.

"I swear I will dedicate my efforts to the well-being of the German people," said Merkel, leader of the Christian Democratic Union, as she raised her right hand and read the oath of office in Parliament. "So help me God."

A physicist raised in an East German farm town, Merkel did not begin her political career until 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell. Known for her shrewdness and analytical decisions, she quickly rose through the ranks of the Christian Democratic Union and was credited for an intellectual rigor that sometimes made her appear aloof.

"This is a strong signal for many women and surely for some men, too," Norbert Lammert, president of parliament, told Merkel after legislators voted 397-202 to name her chancellor to replace Gerhard Schroeder.

Schroeder walked over to Merkel after the vote and was the first to congratulate her. The new chancellor said afterward, "I feel good, and I'm very content. I'm happy."

Jeffrey Fleishman writes for the Los Angeles Times

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