Germany's biggest parties start coalition talks

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, rear second right, opens coalition talks with representatives of the Social Democrats in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday launched coalition negotiations with the main opposition Social Democrats, SPD, that are likely to set the stage for weeks of hard bargaining to form a new government. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have launched negotiations with Germany's main center-left party on forming a new government — kicking off what is expected to be lengthy haggling over policies and positions.

Some 75 negotiators from Merkel's Union bloc and the Social Democrats, their traditional rivals, met Wednesday. That was a month after the conservatives won Germany's election but fell short of an absolute majority. The conservatives' previous partners, the pro-business Free Democrats, lost two-thirds of their support and all their parliamentary seats.

The talks are expected to last several weeks and the Social Democrats plan to seek approval of a coalition deal from their entire membership. In the meantime, Merkel's outgoing Cabinet will remain as a caretaker government.

Key issues include the Social Democrats' demand for a national minimum wage.