Germany's Merkel dealt heavy blow in state vote

May 13, 2012 19:07

BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives suffered a crushing defeat on Sunday in an election in Germany's most populous state, exit polls showed, a result which could embolden the left opposition to step up attacks on her European austerity policies.

The election in North Rhine-Westphalia, a western German state with a bigger population than the Netherlands and an economy the size of Turkey, was held 18 months before a national election in which Merkel is expected to fight for a third term.

She remains popular at home for her steady handling of the euro zone debt crisis, but the sheer scale of her party's defeat represents a heavy blow that could tilt the German political landscape and leave her more vulnerable to domestic critics.

According to an exit poll for public broadcaster ARD, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) won 39 percent of the vote and will have enough to form a stable majority with the Greens, who scored 12 percent.

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