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Germany

Merkel to skip CSU's party conference

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not attend her sister party's conference. That's the result of disagreements over refugee policy between Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and Bavaria's Christian Social Union.

Decades-old tradition has seen the head of the Christian Democratic Union attend the conference of its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not be at the CSU party meeting in Munich next week. The Bavarian party's leader, Horst Seehofer, has been an increasingly vocal critic of Merkel over her migration policies. Sources inside the CSU said her absence would be the result of a mutual agreement reached on Friday.

Seehofer has repeatedly pushed for a hard cap on the number of refugees allowed to enter Germany. At least 800,000 asylum seekers - mostly Syrians and Iraqis - fled to Germany last year.

But despite heavy criticism, Merkel has maintained her promise of sanctuary to Syrian refugees and has insisted on keeping Germany's borders open.

That's proven to be a difficult position as most polls indicate a majority of Germans support a ceiling on the number of refugees entering the country. Polling firm TNS Emnid found in September that 60 percent support a cap.

The CSU, often more conservative than the CDU, has taken a harder line on refugees and the question of integration of Middle Eastern migrants into German society. The CSU has called political Islam "the greatest challenge of our time" and wants to ban the use of headscarves in elementary schools and impose controls on imams.

Germany's traditional right-leaning politicians are watching the rise of the populist - and xenophobic - Alternative for Germany (AfD), which openly espouses a xenophobic and anti-Muslim political platform, and has made won seats in more than half of 16 state parliaments.

jar/sms (dpa, Reuters)