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GERMAN CHANCELLOR ACCEPTS BLAME FOR PARTY'S DEFEAT

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder took the blame Monday for his party's latest humiliation at the polls, but again ruled out changes in an unpopular austerity plan.

Suffering his third election loss in eastern Germany this month, the chancellor also promised a drive to win back voters in Germany's formerly communist states.

Schroeder's party fell behind the former East German communists to third place in eastern Saxony state, winning just 10 percent of the vote in its worst showing in a postwar state election.

A year after voters anxious for change lifted him to power, Schroeder acknowledged he's in trouble. Sunday's result "is not good for the person who has to take principal responsibility, which I do," he said Monday.

But he insisted he would stick with plans to cut into Germany's social safety net and, after a meeting of the Social Democrats' leadership, also ruled out a government reshuffle.

Schroeder has defended the austerity plan as a way to boost investment, fight unemployment and lighten a federal debt pumped up to $800 billion by massive aid to former communist East Germany.

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