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Merkel refugee policy just 'realism,' says Cologne's mayor

Cologne's new mayor, who survived a knife attack by an anti-migration suspect, has approvingly described Chancellor Angela Merkel's openness to refugees as "realism." Henriette Reker said asylum was a fundamental right.

The former head of Cologne's department for social welfare and integration, who was elected mayor as a party-political independent but in dramatic circumstances, said on Monday said it was untenable to set limits on refugee numbers.

Reker said the internationally defined right to asylum is a fundamental right and that to draw a line, for example, at 800,000, and then reject refugee number 800,001 was not justifiable.

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Chancellor Merkel had in recent months simply been "acknowledging the reality" of mass migration toward Europe from crisis regions such as Syria, said Reker.

"It is not a promise, and it is not an invitation," she added, referring to debate over the reasons for migrant inflows via the Balkans that soared at the height of the European summer.

'Humanitarian imperative'

Merkel on Monday told her Christian Democratic (CDU) conference in Karlsruhe that Berlin's decision not to block entry to migrants who had piled up in Hungary was "no more and no less than a humanitarian imperative."

Her leadership won delegates' support for a multi-pronged resolution to reduce inflows by tackling the root cause of refugee flight. The CDU's youth wing withdrew a widely publicized motion calling for an "upper limit" on refugee numbers entering Germany.

Merkel's approach 'correct'

Reker told the German DPA news agency on Monday that Merkel's approach was correct.

"I believe it is our task to explain to people that we must give up a portion of our prosperity," Reker said, adding that refugees arriving in Germany's fourth-largest city amounted to only one percent of its one-million population.

As a result, the attitude "we can do it" acquired a totally different dimension, which meant that Cologne could cope constructively, Reker said.

Survived knifing attack

The 59-year-old lawyer with years of communal administrative experience, first in Gelsenkirchen, was

knifed in the neck on 17 October,

one day before the second round of Cologne's mayoral election.

Köln Messerattacke auf OB-Spitzenkandidatin Henriette Reker

The scene after the attack on Reker in October

She emerged from a medically induced coma to find that she had been overwhelmingly elected by voters - ahead of the Social Democrat (SPD) candidate Joachim Ott.

Reker had the backing of the city's CDU conservatives, the Greens and the liberal FDP but said during campaigning that she would also reach out to the SPD.

The CDU and Greens, who jointly hold a minority of 43 seats in the 91-seat city council, vowed on Thursday to overcome a series of urban planning delays and improve city infrastructure.

The 44-year-old assailant from Cologne, who authorities said had a record of far-right activities, is awaiting trial for attempted murder.

ipj/gsw (dpa, AFP)

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