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Merkel on tightrope over EU migrant policy

June 14, 2018 00:00:00

BERLIN, June 13 (AFP): German Chancellor Angela Merkel was fighting Tuesday to stamp out the first major row within her uneasy coalition, as disputes over her refugee policy returned to haunt her while she negotiates a broad EU asylum deal.

The discord within her conservative bloc burst into the open on Monday when hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, of Merkel's Bavarian allies CSU, hastily cancelled the presentation of his tough new "masterplan" on immigration.

The interior ministry said in a short statement that the unveiling of the plan had been pushed back, acknowledging that "several points still need to be agreed".

Merkel has made clear she rejects a plan to turn back at German borders any asylum-seeker already registered in another EU country, arguing that her country shouldn't go it alone while Europe searches for a common policy.

Seehofer, the former premier of conservative Bavaria state, has long been one of the fiercest critics of Merkel's decision to open Germany's borders at the height of Europe's migration crisis in 2015.

Highlighting the chasm, Seehofer invited to Berlin Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who on Monday flatly refused to allow a rescue vessel carrying hundreds of migrants to dock.

Salvini and Seehofer in a phone call were in "full harmony on security and immigration policies" and agreed that the EU must "not waste any more time" and protect its external borders, said the interior ministry in Rome.

Seehofer, citing scheduling difficulties, will also stay away from a chancellery "integration summit" Wednesday for volunteers, aid workers and officials helping refugees settle in Germany - a move the opposition Greens party labelled an "affront" to all involved.

But Merkel and Seehofer both signalled they wanted a quick end to the spat.

They told conservative lawmakers in Berlin that they would try to negotiate a solution "in the coming days", participants who attended the meeting told AFP.

The arrival of more than a million asylum seekers, many fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq, since 2015 has deeply divided Germany and reshaped the party political landscape.

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