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Angela Merkel re-elected as party leader amid tough talk on migrants

Chancellor Angela Merkel has won a new term as the leader of Germany's main conservative party after stressing her determination to prevent a repeat of last year's huge migrant influx and advocating a partial ban on face-covering veils.

Ms Merkel, who ran unopposed, won 89.5% of delegates' votes for a new two-year term at a congress of her Christian Democratic Union party in the western city of Essen.

That was short of the 96.7% she won in 2014, but still a solid mandate as she prepares to seek a fourth term as chancellor in next year's election.

The vote came after a speech in which she struck a decidedly conservative note, telling members that she wants to stem the influx of migrants and restrict use of face-covering veils such as the burqa and niqab.

Those are rarely seen in Germany, and the CDU has concluded that an all-out ban is not constitutionally feasible.

"Full veiling is not appropriate here - it should be banned wherever that is legally possible," she said, drawing loud applause.

Germany saw about 890,000 asylum-seekers arrive last year. Many came after Ms Merkel decided in September 2015 to let in migrants who were stuck in Hungary.

The numbers have since declined sharply, but Ms Merkel's "we will cope" approach to the migrant crisis has provoked discord within the CDU, which has seen a string of poor state election results this year.

"A situation like the one in the late summer of 2015 cannot, should not and must not be repeated," Ms Merkel told delegates.

While Ms Merkel insisted that Germany will continue to take in people who are genuinely in need of protection, her government has toughened asylum rules and declared several countries "safe" - meaning people from there cannot expect to get refuge.

Ms Merkel was also a driving force behind an agreement between the European Union and Turkey in March to stem the flow of migrants.

Polls show a solid lead for the conservatives, although their support is still short of the 41.5% they won in Germany's 2013 election. They face new competition from the upstart nationalist Alternative for Germany party, which has thrived by attacking Ms Merkel's migrant policies.

"The 2017 election will be more difficult than any election before, at least since German reunification," Ms Merkel said, citing the "strong polarisation of our society".

Ms Merkel told delegates that "parallel societies" will not be tolerated and advocated banning the wearing of full-face veils used by some Muslim women where that is possible.

But she also hit out at anti-migrant and anti-government protesters who chant "we are the people!" or post hate messages on social media.

"Who the people are... is something that we will all determine, not just a few, however loud they may be," she declared.

The EU's longest-serving head of government has often said her aim is for Europe to emerge stronger from crises such as the debt troubles that afflicted the common euro currency.

"We must, in this situation... first do everything so that Europe doesn't emerge even weaker from the crises than when it went in," she said.

That "sounds modest, but let's not deceive ourselves, it is not", Ms Merkel said, citing conservative icon and ex-chancellor Helmut Kohl's maxim that European stability should not be taken for granted.

Aside from unhappiness about her migrant policy, some party members are grumbling about what's perceived as a drift to the left during her 11 years as chancellor.

"We have thrown a lot of Christian Democratic principles overboard," said Eugen Abler, a delegate from the south-western state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, whose complaints included what he called "the downplaying of Islamisation".

"The result: We are winning few voters on the left and we are losing a lot on the right," he added.

Ms Merkel said tough times demand tough decisions.

"I have asked a lot of you because the times have asked a lot of us - I am well aware of that," she told her party. "And I cannot promise you that there will be fewer demands in the future, because we must do what the times demand of us."

Still, she stressed that the conservatives will rule out tax increases for the next four years.



From Belfast Telegraph