Merkel to give up CDU chair after 18 years

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This weekend's election is a second blow to Merkel's fragile "grand coalition" government.

But her decision to open Germany's borders to more than one million migrant and refugees in 2015 - though praised by human rights groups - angered conservative politicians and voters.

While the decision to step down is not likely to affect her leadership in the short term, CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen said the move could spell the "beginning of the end" for Merkel's Chancellorship.

And Merkel, dubbed the "eternal chancellor", might not get to choose her own timetable for stepping down, as her departure could be hastened if the SPD brings down the government before 2021.

At least four candidates declared their interest in Merkel's job after she made her stunning announcement.

The question now is whether by offering herself up as a lightning rod, Merkel will deflect the disapproval that sent voters towards other parties. This was the party's worst showing in the state since 1966.

"It was quite an upheaval, but I think this is the endgame for Merkel, and they're finally paying attention", Baretto told host Brian Becker, recalling the disastrous outcomes in recent regional elections in Hesse and Bavaria for Merkel's party and sister party, the Christian Social Union.

The decision arguably contributed the rapid rise of the nationalist AfD, which is now the largest party in the Bundestag outside of the centre-left SPD and Merkel's party.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer would be the obvious choice for Merkel loyalists to replace her.

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"The two women have taken back the momentum, because none of their opponents were ready for this", he tweeted.

However, Health Minister Jens Spahn, a leading critic of the chancellor's open-door migration policies, has also announced his candidacy.

Mrs Merkel said she took "full responsibility" for poor performance.

While Merkel has essentially given her party three years to put the succession in place, her departure may yet be precipitated if her junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, loses patience and pulls the plug prematurely.

While still widely respected overseas, her recent domestic woes have kept Merkel away from the European stage, thwarting French President's Emmanuel Macron's push to reform the eurozone with Merkel by his side.

Despite her global standing, Merkel said she has no plans to seek a post in the European Commission after bowing out of German politics, quashing speculation to that effect in Brussels. She is now the party secretary.

She said the SPD would now lay out a "roadmap" in Berlin demanding concrete progress on key issues by next October, including pension rights and better childcare, before deciding whether to remain in the coalition.

The main beneficiaries were the Greens, who paradoxically share power with the CDU in the state and have now drawn level with the SPD, and the far-right AfD, who rose to 13 percent.

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