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German defense minister supports Merkel amid in-party criticism over refugee policy

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has defended Chancellor Merkel after a wave of criticism over a new refugee policy. Members of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union have voiced their disapproval.

Speaking to the Monday editions of newspapers belonging to the German media group "Funke Mediengruppe," von der Leyen said that "for all the understandable anxiety in the face of the unprecedented situation, the basis of the [Christian Democratic] Union knows full well that no one can better navigate Germany and Europe through this difficult time than the chancellor."

The deputy Christian Democratic Union [CDU] leader went on to say that it was Merkel's government which had "reformed the asylum law in record time and facilitated expulsions."

She reiterated, however that "unfortunately, there is no simple solution to this crisis."

In-house criticism

Von der Leyen's comments followed

growing pressure from within Merkel's own party

over the amendments to the country's asylum policy, which came into effect on Saturday.

The main aims of the asylum package are to speed up asylum procedures and ensure that rejected asylum applicants quickly return to their home country. As part of the reforms, refugees allowed to stay in Germany should also be provided with better means to integrate into society.

According to a report in German magazine "Der Spiegel" on Saturday, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) said that the mood of party members was "dramatically" bad. He questioned the party's support for Merkel.

A weekly poll, published in the Sunday edition of "Bild" newspaper, showed that the CDU and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Socialist Union (CSU), had the support of just 36 percent of the electorate - their lowest value since September 2012.

Long-term plans

Merkel has thus far refused to amend her refugee policy, however, insisting that Germany can take in thousands of migrants in the years to come.

In her weekly podcast on Saturday, Merkel emphasized the need to quickly integrate refugees into society, stressing the importance of jobs, education and German language education. She said that less-educated migrants would be given training to help them get jobs, and that children should be quickly enrolled in schools.

Also in the pipeline are plans to enact new rules to send home migrants who don't qualify for asylum in Germany.

Merkel meeting with state leaders

from the Balkans and nine other EU states

in Brussels on Sunday to discuss proposals of how to deal with the Europe-wide crisis.

ksb/cmk (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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