Europe

Germany's Angela Merkel sacks minister after Westphalia defeat

German Environment Minister attends a meeting of the Christian Democrat Union on 14 May, a day after his defeat as the party's candidate for premier of the state of North-Rhine Westphalia
Image caption Mr Roettgen has been blamed for his party's losses in North-Rhine Westphalia

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has sacked her environment minister, Norbert Roettgen, days after he led her party to a crushing defeat in a key regional election.

Mr Roettgen was the candidate of Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats for the post of state premier in North-Rhine Westphalia.

He was widely blamed for the party's heavy defeat to the Social Democrats.

The loss was seen as a serious blow to Ms Merkel's government.

She told a hastily arranged news conference on Wednesday that Mr Roettgen had been dismissed "to allow a change in personnel".

He was replaced by Peter Altmaier, the Christian Democrats' leader in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag.

Mr Roettgen provoked controversy early in the North-Rhine Westphalia campaign by refusing to commit to giving up his job as national environment minister and becoming full-time opposition leader in the state if he lost.

In unusually strongly worded remarks, Horst Seehofer, the head of the Christian Democrats' powerful sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, accused Mr Roettgen of having made a "very serious mistake".

Pointing out that Mr Roettgen had started the campaign three percentage points ahead in the polls, Mr Seehofer said he was astonished that the lead had "melted away like a bowl of ice cream in the sun".

His remarks on Monday to broadcaster ZDF caused a sensation in the German media.

Support for the Christian Democrats dropped from 35% to 26% in Sunday's North-Rhine Westphalia election. It was the party's worst result in the state.

Official results give the Social Democrats (SPD) 39.1%, the Christian Democrats (CDU) 26.3%, the Greens 11.3%, the Free Democrats (FDP) 8.6%, the Pirates 7.8% and the Left, 2.5%, reported AP news agency.

The FDP, the CDU's national coalition partner, performed better than expected, increasing their vote by nearly two percentage points and thereby giving the lie to speculation that they might fail to win seats.

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