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Merkel to accept new pandas from China for Berlin Zoo

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says talks to bring two new pandas to Berlin Zoo have begun with Beijing. The giant panda, which is unique to China, is often sent abroad as a sign of warm diplomatic relations.

Berlin's Zoological Gardens looks set to get two new pandas to replace the much-loved Bao Bao, one of the world's oldest male giant pandas, who died in 2012 aged 32.

Merkel announced on Thursday that both China and Germany had opened talks to bring two new black and white bears to Germany. She met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as part of her official visit to China.

Describing the two countries fondness for the giant bears, she said: "This is a very special piece of China that will please a lot of people in Germany."

Pandas, which are native and unique to south central China, are often given by the Beijing government as part of what's dubbed "panda diplomacy," to mark breakthroughs in relations with other countries.

Bao Bao, was sent in 1980 as a gift from then-Chinese leader Hua Guofeng to West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

Several attempts to mate him with females were unsuccessful, including a loan to London zoo to meet a panda named Ming Ming.

The last female panda at Berlin zoo was Yan Yan, who died in 2007. The pair were so popular among residents of the German capital that they were celebrated at

an exhibition earlier this year.

Zoo Director Andrea Knieriem described Thursday's announcement as "joyful news."

Some commentators say the announcement reinforces Germany's special relationship with China.

An estimated 18.6 billion euros of business contracts between the two countries,

were also announced on Thursday.

mm/jil (AP, dpa)

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