Germany: Angela Merkel 'loses key state election'

Green party supporters celebrate the exit polls in Stuttgart, 27 March Green party supporters celebrate exit polls in Stuttgart

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats have lost the key state of Baden-Wuerttemberg after six decades, preliminary results show.

The results gave the Greens 24.2% and their Social Democrat allies 23.1%, with Mrs Merkel's party on 39% and its Free Democrat (FDP) allies on 5.3%.

Nuclear power, following the accident in Japan, was a key issue.

The vote in the wealthy south-western state was seen as a referendum on Mrs Merkel's rule.

The region, around Stuttgart, has a population of some 11 million and has been ruled by the Christian Democrats since 1953.

If the Greens do go into coalition with the Social Democrats, it will be the first time they have held power in a state.

Green party spokesman Franz Untersteller said: "It's a dream come true... we could never have dreamed of a result like this a few days ago."

Christian Democrat state governor Stefan Mappus, an advocate of nuclear energy, said: "Voters were touched by the terrible events in Japan; those images still haunt people today."

Rhineland-Palatinate

Polling stations closed in Baden-Wuerttemberg at 1600 GMT in an election where the opposition was energised by the nuclear crisis following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan on 11 March.

Analysis

Nobody thinks this is a government riding the crest of a wave of adulation. The old "Teflon" chancellor is not bestriding the land.

Mrs Merkel doesn't have to hold a federal election until 2013, but may now be forced to call one earlier.

She may hope the economy strengthens her ratings, but the difficulty in that hope is that Baden-Wuerttemberg is the most prosperous part of Germany - and the voters there showed little gratitude to the party of government for that.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of Germans took part in what were thought to be the country's biggest-ever protests against nuclear power.

Mrs Merkel had tried to ease concerns by suspending for three months a decision to extend the lifetime of Germany's nuclear reactors. Four are based in Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Another key issue was the plan for a big railway project that could transform the centre of Stuttgart.

The BBC's Stephen Evans in Berlin says Mrs Merkel had been accused of bending with the wind on other issues - such as eurozone bailouts - and she now faces a coalition torn by factions.

Mrs Merkel had already suffered damaging defeats in North Rhine-Westphalia last May and in Hamburg in February.

In another state election on Sunday, in Rhineland-Palatinate, preliminary results showed another huge boost for the Greens.

They were reported to have trebled their vote to 15.4%, meaning that the Social Democrats, who were set to fall 9.9 percentage points to 35.7%, would need them for a coalition.

The Christian Democrats rose 2.5 points to 35.3%, the initial results showed.

The FDP, led by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, fell below the 5% needed to gain any representation in the state.

The FDP's Rainer Bruedele, the economy minister, said it was a "bitter defeat".

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