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Merkel announces date for German election

By Agence France-presse in Berlin | China Daily | Updated: 2017-01-19 07:38

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government on Wednesday set September 24 as the date for a general election, as she seeks a fourth term facing populist headwinds over a record migrant influx.

The decision, adopted by Merkel's right-left coalition cabinet, must still be formally approved by President Joachim Gauck.

But the announcement fires the starting gun for an election campaign that Merkel has said will be her toughest yet due to opposition to her liberal asylum policy.

Merkel, 62, is nevertheless the clear front-runner in the race and enjoys solid popularity in Europe's top economy.

A poll released on Wednesday showed her conservative Christian Union bloc as the strongest political force in the country with 38 percent.

It was followed in distant second by the Social Democrats, the current junior partners in Merkel's "grand coalition" government, which polled at 21 percent.

The right-wing anti-immigration Alternative for Germany, which has railed against Merkel's decision to let in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015, lost one percentage point compared to last week to reach 11 percent.

The head of the Forsa opinion research institute which conducted the poll, Manfred Guellner, said a jihadist attack on a Berlin Christmas market last month that killed 12 people and was committed by a rejected asylum seeker had failed to boost support for the AfD.

"Although the security debate after the Berlin terror attack is running high, the AfD is unable to capitalize on it," Guellner said.

"It is actually losing support while the CDU/CSU and the SPD are stabilizing."

The AfD, seeking to gain momentum from a surge of European radical parties, will host a meeting of far-right leaders in the western city of Koblenz on Saturday.

Leaders expected to attend include Marine Le Pen, the presidential candidate for France's National Front; Harald Vilimsky of Austria's nationalist FPOe party; and Dutch MP Geert Wilders of the anti-Islam Freedom Party.

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