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Triumphant Merkel re-elected party chief with 97 per cent
[COLOGNE] German Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected unopposed on Tuesday as chief of her conservative party at a triumphant congress that celebrated her role as Europe's most powerful leader.
From the Ukraine conflict to Europe's debilitating financial crisis, Dr Merkel said her policies as the head of Europe's biggest economy promoted security and stability and lived up to Germany's responsibilities in the world.
After a vigorous speech capped by a 10-minute ovation, delegates crowned Dr Merkel head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for the eighth time, with 96.7 per cent, a result she called an "overwhelming vote of confidence".
The result was slightly down on the last vote in 2012 however.
Dr Merkel, who is nearing a decade in power, stressed that Germany and its EU neighbours needed both economic growth and budget discipline to shore up their future global role.
Dr Merkel, 60, said Germany under her government was a prosperous and respected country, with a successful industrial base, strong social and environmental standards and low unemployment.
"The CDU has been good for Germany," said Dr Merkel, pledging however not to rest on her laurels and instead address the challenges of the future.
These, she said, ranged from boosting investment in roads, railways and broadband networks, to pushing on with a renewable energy shift and tackling a quickly ageing society.
Dr Merkel said Germany's future lay within a strong, united Europe and warned that the financial crisis that almost sank the eurozone was not yet fully surmounted, even if it had been brought under control.
Days after telling France and Italy to do more to get their public finances in order, Dr Merkel again urged all of Europe to respect the rules it had set itself to win back confidence after the crisis.
Berlin's insistence on economies sticking to the EU's Growth and Stability Pact was not a matter of "German fussiness", she told around 1,000 delegates at the start of the two-day congress in the western city of Cologne.
"If, in the end, we fail to adhere to what we resolved to do in this crisis, then we'd gamble away confidence," she said to thunderous applause. "And that would not be good for Europe." While many southern Europeans, feeling the pain of the eurozone crisis, despise Dr Merkel for preaching tough reforms and austerity, Germans mostly see her as a safe pair of hands steering the country largely unscathed through the years of turmoil.
Dr Merkel still notches up poll figures that are the envy of other world leaders - the latest survey by public broadcaster ARD indicated an approval rating of 67 per cent.
And 56 per cent of Germans want Dr Merkel to serve a fourth term as chancellor from 2017, according to a poll by the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Turning to another challenge for Europe, Dr Merkel said she was convinced the Ukraine conflict and the standoff with Russia could be resolved diplomatically, even if it would require patience.
"We will need staying power, but I am convinced that we can do it, that we must do it," she said.
Dr Merkel has been in frequent contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the crisis and pledged that she and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier would miss "no opportunity" in trying to forge a diplomatic solution.
As Dr Merkel spoke, a ceasefire appeared to be largely holding along the frontline in the ex-Soviet republic's war-shattered east, but planned peace talks in the Belarussian capital Minsk have been delayed.
Dr Merkel, a Lutheran pastor's daughter and trained quantum physicist who was raised in the former communist East Germany, has headed the party since 2000 and has been chancellor since 2005, with no obvious successor in sight.
CDU conventions have largely become celebrations of the election-winning chancellor, dubbed "Mutti" or Mummy by Germans and often hailed with shouts of "Angie!" by supporters.
But critics charge that Germany's once vibrant political culture has been suffocated by the reign of Dr Merkel, whose year-old "grand coalition" government has absorbed her vanquished centre-left rivals the Social Democrats (SPD).
Dr Merkel sharply criticised as a "declaration of bankruptcy" a decision by the SPD to enter into a three-way regional power-sharing accord in Thuringia state which includes the far-left Linke, a successor to the former communist East's ruling party.