Merkel waves off refugee limits despite pressure after Austria move

Chancellor Angela Merkel attempted on Wednesday to quell a rebellion in her ruling coalition about her handling of the nation's refugee crisis and roundly criticized Vienna's move to limit its number of asylum seekers entering Austria.

In a brief statement ahead of meeting her conservative Christian Democrats' (CDU) Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU) allies, Merkel said that she and her critics both agreed that steps were needed to ensure "a marked and sustainable" drop in refugees entering Germany.

The CSU and its leader, Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer, have spearheaded opposition to Merkel's stance on asylum, demanding that she abandon her opposition to limiting the numbers of refugees entering Germany and restrict the numbers along the lines of Austria.

Underlining the rift that has emerged in her coalition about the refugee crisis, Merkel's visit to the CSU party conference in the Bavarian Alps is the second time in two weeks that the chancellor has confronted her CSU critics.

But, in talks with CSU leaders, Merkel criticized Austria's decision to limit refugee numbers to 37,500 this year - a sharp drop from recent admissions levels - saying it would complicate negotiations with Turkey, according to party officials.

In her comments ahead of the talks, Merkel reaffirmed her push to find an international solution to reducing refugee flows into Europe.

She said that talks with Turkey on Friday, next week's international donor conference on the Middle East, and February's European Union leaders summit should offer opportunities to map out a solution.

"Then can we make an interim assessment and see where we stand," Merkel said.

But time is running out for Merkel to resolve the refugee crisis.

She faces a major test of stance on asylum when voters in three states - Baden Wuerttemberg in the south, Rheinland Pfatz in the western part of the nation and Saxony Anhalt in the east - go the polls in March.

Leading CSU members have also stepped up their criticism of Merkel following allegations of mass assaults against women by foreigners in Cologne on New Year's Eve, which have added to tensions in Germany about accepting large numbers of refugees.

Standing along aside Merkel on Wednesday, CSU state parliamentary chairman Thomas Kreuzer told the chancellor national measures to head off the flow of refugees "cannot be ruled out."

With Bavaria having emerged as the frontline state for refugees entering Germany, the CSU has called on Merkel to restrict the numbers of asylum seekers arriving this year to 200,000. The number of refugees entering Germany last year topped 1 million.

Underlining the tensions in Merkel's coalition about her refugee stance, 44 members of the CDU-CSU's combined 310-strong parliamentary bloc presented the chancellor with a letter on Tuesday warning her that the nation's resources had been stretched to the limit by the influx of refugees.

CDU-CSU members have been unnerved by a string of opinion polls showing a slide in support for the Merkel-led bloc and a jump in the numbers of voters backing Germany's new right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD).

A survey released by pollster Forsa showed support for the CDU-CSU falling during the week by 1 percentage point to 37 per cent - its lowest level since November. At the same time, the AfD has gained 1 percentage point to hit 10 per cent.

If repeated at Germany's next general election set down for September 2017, the rise in support for the AfD would propel it into the national parliament, the Bundestag.

Polls are also pointing to the AfD securing seats in regional legislatures at the three state elections set down for March.

Last update: Wed, 20/01/2016 - 19:24

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