Merkel wraps up state election campaign as migration tests support

Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to reduce migration to Germany on the last stretch of state election campaigning on Saturday, one day before millions of Germans were set to vote in three key state polls.

Sunday's elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt are expected to send a direct signal to Merkel, whose decision to keep Germany's borders open to a huge influx of asylum seekers has tested public support for her Christian Democrat Union (CDU).

"We want to reduce the number of refugees significantly," the chancellor told a crowd of 1,400 in the south-western town of Haigerloch.

She took aim at so-called economic migrants, vowing to deport those who have no right to claim asylum more promptly.

Merkel defended her stance on migration with tough talk on integration measures for new arrivals at the rally in the once-traditional CDU stronghold of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

"I think we can say that we expect the refugees to accept these offers. This is an obligation and not a option," Merkel said, referring to a recent push to teach migrants German and introduce them to the German job market.

According to pre-election polls, the CDU and its Social Democrat coalition partner (SPD) could suffer heavy blows in the elections, while the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) is set to take seats in all three regional parliaments.

German Vice Chancellor and SPD chief Sigmar Gabriel said that high voter turnout in upcoming state elections was key to fending off the rising threat of nationalist parties.

About 13 million people are registered to vote in the three states. Just how many of them turn out to the polls is thought by Gabriel to be crucial to Sunday's outcome. He said that mainstream parties' chances are boosted the more voters cast a ballot.

"We have a development all over Europe of nationalist parties, unfortunately also in Germany. Nevertheless, tomorrow we will see that far and away the biggest number of voters will cast a ballot for democratic parties," Gabriel said on the eve of the critical regional elections.

"It also shouldn't be the case that anyone starts to become panicked. There is a clear attitude that we stand for humanity and solidarity, and we're not going to change our position because of some 10 per cent right-wing extremists," he added.

Gabriel, speaking after a meeting of Social Democrats from across Europe in Paris, said the bigger risk was to Merkel's CDU.

Last update: Sat, 03/09/2016 - 01:26
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