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Papers call it wrong in election night cliff-hanger

The CBS news presenter Dan Rather announced the winner of the American presidential election when it was still too close to call, and later told viewers: "If you're disgusted with us, frankly, I don't blame you."

Some of Germany's biggest-selling newspapers were similarly embarrassed after being wrong-footed by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's victory.

"Stoiber ahead of Schröder", declared the top-selling and conservative Bild on its front page yesterday. The front of the Frankfurter Allgemeine was similarly misled, announcing that the conservative CDU-CSU union had finished as the strongest party.

Suddeutsche Zeitung carried a picture of Mr Stoiber with his thumbs up, beaming below the headline "Union (CDU/CSU) strongest in parliament".

The television station ARD was the first to confuse the issue at about 7.30pm on election night, contradicting most projections by predicting a two-seat majority for Mr Stoiber.

It was a nail-biter to the end. The papers went to print when 90 per cent of votes had been counted and seemed to show a Stoiber victory and the prospect of a hung parliament. Mr Stoiber had told cheering supporters earlier: "One thing is already clear: We have won the election."

But by 2am, with 99 per cent of the vote counted, officials put the two main parties even. An hour later, Mr Schröder was declared the winner, having garnered 9,000 more votes.

Mr Stoiber told his party faithful: "The Schröder government will be able to govern only for a very, very short time."