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Merkel confirms she won't seek re-election to CDU party chair

She says she is taking personal responsibility for the decline in support for the governing coalition

Berlin

GERMANY'S Angela Merkel will quit as head of her Christian Democratic party (CDU) and won't run for another term as chancellor, taking personal responsibility for the decline in support for the governing coalition.

"The image presented by the government is unacceptable," Mrs Merkel said at a press conference in Berlin, a day after her party suffered its latest setback in a regional election. "With this decision, I am trying to do my part to allow the federal government to function well again."

"Firstly, at the next CDU party congress in December in Hamburg, I will not put myself forward again as candidate for the CDU chair," she told reporters, drawing the consequences of setbacks for the CDU in a regional vote on Sunday.

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"Secondly, this fourth term is my last as German chancellor.

"At the federal election in 2021, I will not stand again as chancellor candidate, nor as a candidate for the Bundestag, and . . . I won't seek any further political offices," she added. After nearly 13 years in power, 64-year-old Mrs Merkel's authority has been severely tested since a disappointing result in last year's federal election. It took her six months to piece together a coalition which has been riven by infighting and suffered losses in regional ballots in Bavaria and, on Sunday, Hesse.

The shock decision signals the beginning of the end for a chancellor who put her stamp on Europe and beyond.

While Mrs Merkel insisted she intends to remain in power until the end of her term in 2021, the decision is raising questions about how long she will be able to hold on in practice.

She also declined to back any of the candidates seeking to replace her as party leader of the centre-right Christian Democrats at a convention in December.

If Mrs Merkel's ally Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, general secretary of the CDU becomes the next party chief, that may buy her enough time to leave on her own terms. If it's an enemy like former chairman of the CDU/CSU group Friedrich Merz, pushed aside during the chancellor's rise to power, then she may be in trouble. In any case, she said the party's loss of support was too severe to brush off.

"We can't simply return to business as usual," she said. "The raw numbers in Hesse were bitter and disappointing." For now the CDU will almost certainly support her decision as it focuses on the leadership contest and the Social Democrats, while they've been punished for joining Mrs Merkel's coalition, have little incentive to trigger an election.

Market reaction was muted with the euro remaining above last week's low against the dollar.

Other contenders include Health Minister Jens Spahn, who has publicly criticised her open-doors refugee policy and is championed by the CDU's social conservatives; Ralph Brinkhaus, a fiscal hawk who unexpectedly ousted Mrs Merkel's longtime parliamentary caucus leader.

Two state premiers, Armin Laschet and Daniel Guenther, also carry weight after recently leading the CDU to victory in regional elections.

"I once said that I wasn't born chancellor," Mrs Merkel said. "That I haven't forgotten." BLOOMBERG, REUTERS