One-time rival of Germany's Merkel assails her leadership

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BERLIN (AP) — A one-time rival of German Chancellor Angela Merkel has assailed her leadership style, adding to tensions in her center-right party after its dismal performance in a state election.

Friedrich Merz, 63, ran last year to succeed Merkel as leader of her conservative Christian Democratic Union but was narrowly defeated by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. He still has many supporters in the party.

On Sunday, the CDU finished third in an election in Thuringia, a state it once dominated. In an interview Monday night with ZDF television, Merz pointed to the "abysmal" image of Merkel's national government — a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats that has been dogged by infighting.

Merz said the party is in "a really difficult situation" and the main reason why is that "the inertia and lack of leadership of the chancellor has been hanging over this country like a blanket of fog for years."

"Things can't go on like this, and I simply cannot imagine that this kind of government in Germany can carry on for another two years until the end of this parliamentary term," Merz added.

Merkel, 65, chose to step down as party leader last year, saying she won't seek a fifth term as chancellor but intends to serve out her current term, which is due to end in 2021.

Sunday's was the fourth poor election result for the CDU since Kramp-Karrenbauer took over the party in December. It has lost ground in three state elections in the country's east and in the European Parliament election in May.

Merz professed his support for Kramp-Karrenbauer, saying that she "hardly played a negative role and it is overwhelmingly the chancellor who is in the focus of criticism."

But his intervention comes at an unhelpful time for Kramp-Karrenbauer, who has had a rough ride as she tries to reconcile a party that has both liberals and supporters of a more conservative approach, such as Merz's backers.

The CDU is expected to choose its candidate to be the next chancellor next year. Amid questioning of her position, Kramp-Karrenbauer on Monday challenged critics who think things should be done differently to come forward at a party conference next month.

Merz was the CDU's parliamentary leader until Merkel pushed him out of the job in 2002. He sought a comeback last year after a decade away from front-line politics.

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