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German voters deliver Merkel blow

German chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have suffered a historic defeat in a state ballot after almost six decades in power there, partial results showed, in an election that amounted to a referendum on the party's stance on nuclear power.

The opposition anti-nuclear Greens doubled their voter share in Baden-Wuerttemberg state and seemed poised to win their first-ever state governorship, according to calculations based on partial results published by public broadcaster ARD.

"We have secured what amounts to an historic electoral victory," the Greens' leader Winfried Kretschmann told party members in Stuttgart.

The Greens secured 24% of the vote, with the centre-left Social Democrats down 2%age points at 23.2%, giving them enough form a coalition government in the state, the results showed.

Representatives of all parties said the elections were overshadowed by Japan's nuclear crisis, turning them into a popular vote on the country's future use of nuclear power - which a majority of Germans oppose as they view it as inherently dangerous.

Conservative governor Stefan Mappus, who has long been an advocate of nuclear energy, conceded defeat and said his party's lead in the polls dwindled away in the wake of the disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear facility.

"Voters were touched by the terrible events in Japan, those images still haunt people today," he said.

Mappus' Christian Democrats secured 39.5% of the vote and its coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrats, saw its voter share halved to 5.1% - just above the threshold to enter the state legislature, the partial results showed.

The Free Democrats' national chairman, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, also said his party was punished for its favourable stance on nuclear energy.

"It was a vote on the future of nuclear power," he said.

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