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Merkel faces stern task in building new German government

German chancellor Angela Merkel has defended an election campaign which left her conservative bloc significantly weakened despite finishing in first place, as she embarked on what could be a lengthy quest to form a new government.

Mrs Merkel said the success of the nationalist, anti-migrant party AfD, which finished third in Sunday's election, will not influence her Christian Democratic Union's foreign, European and refugee policies.

She once more defended her decision to let in nearly 900,000 migrants and refugees, saying Germany would not again face the humanitarian crisis which led to it.

She said: "I can't see what we should have done differently.

"I thought this campaign through well."

The centre-left Social Democratic Party has been Mrs Merkel's partners in a "grand coalition" since 2013.

The party finished second, but leader Martin Schulz said its tremendously weak showing would require the Social Democrats "to be a strong opposition" going forward.

Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has no tradition of minority governments, and Mrs Merkel has made clear she does not want to go down that route.

This would be a tall order in any case, as her bloc only holds 246 of the new parliament's 709 seats.

The most politically plausible option so far is a three-way coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats and the traditionally left-leaning Greens.

The combination, called a "Jamaica" coalition because the parties' colours match those of the Caribbean nation's flag, has never been tried before in a national government.

Mrs Merkel said she will seek talks with the two parties, as well as with the Social Democrats.

There is unlikely to be much movement before a state election October 15 in Lower Saxony, one of Germany's most populous states.

The chancellor said in Berlin: "It is important that Germany gets a good, stable government.

"All parties ... have a responsibility that we get a stable government."

Mrs Merkel will have to bridge differences between the Free Democrats and Greens.

The parties have a tradition of mutual suspicion as well as differences on issues including environmental policy, European financial policy and the car industry's future.

Mrs Merkel also faces pressure from conservative allies for an effective response to the third-place finish of the nationalist Alternative for Germany, or AfD.

That party won entrance to parliament for the first time Sunday after a campaign that centred on harsh criticism of Mrs Merkel and the migrant influx.

However, the election results left no other party or bloc besides Mrs Merkel's able to lead a new government, and Mrs Merkel herself lacks an obvious internal challenger. She dismissed the idea of seeking a new election.

The chancellor's campaign focused squarely on her 12 years' experience leading Germany through a period of international turmoil, but offered few ideas for the future.

Oskar Niedermayer, a political science professor at Berlin's Free University, said he "wouldn't want to bet" on a Jamaica coalition coming together, saying the parties appear so far apart in many areas that solid compromises are hard to imagine.

If the talks fail, he told n-tv television, the Social Democrats will face the question: "Do they want to take the blame for early elections or will they let themselves be forced into a coalition?"

The talks "will certainly be very complicated and very difficult", said the Greens' co-leader, Katrin Goering-Eckardt. "We will negotiate with great responsibility and great seriousness."

Mrs Merkel's outgoing government took office nearly three months after Germany's 2013 election, a post-Second World War record that could now be exceeded.

Mrs Merkel said she will not be able to tell fellow European Union leaders at a summit this week when her new administration will be in place.

She noted, though, that the Netherlands has still to form a new government after an election in mid-March.

"I'm not the most urgent case yet," Mrs Merkel said.

"I will assure my colleagues that Germany will act responsibly in the phase in which we are in transition."

AP

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