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Merkel defends return to stricter immigration rules

Germany's leader has defended a move by her Interior Minister to tighten border security without telling her. She has said that a return to the Dublin rules was fairer for Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stood by her Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière, on Friday after he decided to reapply a regulation requiring refugees to apply for asylum in the first European Union country they arrive in. The decision by de Maizière to strengthen border controls three weeks ago without informing Merkel had caused a great deal of tension within the government.

The move also cast doubt on Merkel's reputation for strong leadership.

Despite this, Merkel defended de Maizière and his reimplementation of the so-called Dublin rule on Friday, stepping away from the open-door policy that had characterized her approach to the refugee crisis.

Speaking at a press conference, the German leader said that "unfortunately," most refugees were flouting the Dublin rules.

"That's why the number of cases (affected by the decision) is actually small," Merkel said. "But still, I think the decision is right, because we want to get closer to establishing a fair distribution key also in Europe."

"We need fair burden-sharing - that's totally clear," she said, adding that reapplying Dublin would be a step in that direction, despite the criticism the regulation has drawn from nations like Italy and Greece for accomplishing the exact opposite.

Chancellor pressured by conservatives

After adopting a more welcoming policy in the face of some 800,000 refugees expected to apply for asylum in Germany this year, Merkel faced flak from her fellow conservatives and pressure to take a tougher stance in the crisis.

Later on Friday the chancellor will appear for an interview on the issue on German public television, ahead of a high-level meeting of conservatives from her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The CSU has recently been the most outspoken wing of supposed Merkel allies criticizing her for being soft on immigration.

es/kms (dpa, Reuters)

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