German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) have denied a report that they are considering a change of course towards the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) by engaging with the party and its voters.
Mass circulation newspaper Bild reported Tuesday that Merkel gave address in which she said that demonizing the AfD - which has seats in half of Germany's 16 state legislatures - and its supporters would only alienate them further from the established parties.
Sources who attended the meeting told dpa that Merkel had not talked about a change of course towards the AfD, and that she had merely said that the concerns of its supporters should be taken seriously and countered with policy proposals.
A source in the CDU leadership also denied the report in Bild.
Pollsters and political analysts say Merkel's centrist course over the past decade has caused conservative supporters of her CDU to become alienated and opt for the AfD, which last week enshrined its anti-immigration and anti-Islam stance in a new manifesto.
At state elections in March, the AfD made unprecedented electoral gains, landing it in the Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt state parliaments.