German government denies receiving North Atlantic Treaty Organisation invoice from Trump

Her centre-left rivals the Social Democrats, facing their first test since nominating Martin Schulz as Merkel's rival, received up to 30 per cent.

There are 800,000 eligible voters in Saarland, Germany's smallest non-city state in the southwest of the country bordering France and Luxembourg.

Merkel's Christian Democrats easily beat the center-left Social Democrats in Saarland state Sunday.

"The CDU has demonstrated an outstanding result with 40.7 percent of votes with a significant growth in turnout when compared with the previous election in the Landtag (State Diet) and with a growth in support numbers", Merkel said.

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The right-wing populist AfD party, which had seized on voter outrage and angst over the issue, won seats in Saarland Sunday, its 11th state, but with an anaemic six-percent result.

The Guardian says two state elections in May will give further indications of the political temperature in Europe's largest economy. The SPD dropped more than three points in the result while the Greens failed to reach the 5% threshold to enter the state assembly.

Conservatives have accused Schulz, whose party has been part of the German government for all but four years since 1998, of deliberately talking down Germany's strong economic performance for electoral gain.

The regional elections in Saarland are a barometer for the so-called "Schulz effect", after he was elected to head the SPD a week ago with 100 per cent of the votes of his party colleagues.

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A loss for Kramp-Karrenbauer would have been a worrying signal for the CDU's national campaign and for two bigger state elections in May - in Schleswig-Holstein and Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, both now led by the Social Democrats.

In Saarland, a recent survey indicated a narrow lead for the CDU, but there had been predictions that a coalition between the SPD, the far-left Linke and the environmentalist Greens may emerge.

He said: "We have picked up support in the last few weeks, in Saarland too, and we are looking ahead". "But that does not mean that we will not reach our overall goal, which is to change the government of Germany", said Schulz. "And there has been a clear message to us this evening: this is a long-distance race, not a sprint".

Schulz said that the Left Party had run particularly strongly in Saarland because one of their most visible representatives, former SPD chancellor candidate Oskar Lafontaine (in 1990), comes from there.

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Opinion polls before Sunday from the nation's Forsa Institute showed the Socialists at 31 percent nationally, just behind Mrs. Merkel's center-right CDU with 34 percent.


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