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The Latest: Merkel's bloc comes 1st in German election

By The Associated Press
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BERLIN (AP) — The latest on Germany's national election (all times local):

3:55 a.m.

Election officials confirm Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc has come first in Germany's election, paving the way for her to lead the country for a fourth term.

The federal election authority said early Monday that Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Bavarian-only Christian Social Union combined for 33 percent of the vote.

Challenger Martin Schulz' center-left Social Democratic Party, which has joined Merkel's party in a "grand coalition" for the past four years, finished second with 20.5 percent.

Alternative for Germany, which campaigned on an anti-refugee, socially conservative message, was third with 12.6 percent. It will enter federal parliament for the first time.

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2 a.m.

The nationalist Alternative for Germany party has won the biggest share of the vote in the eastern state of Saxony during Sunday's parliamentary elections.

The state is the birthplace of the group Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, which has staged anti-Muslim demonstrations in the state capital Dresden since 2014.

Saxony has also seen numerous high-profile attacks on migrants and refugee shelters in recent years, prompting the local government to launch a public relations campaign to improve its image abroad.

State election authorities say the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany, or AfD, received 27 percent of the votes in Saxony during Sunday's national election. That's a tenth of a percentage point more than Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats received in the state.

Saxony is the home of AfD figurehead leader Frauke Petry.

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1:05 a.m.

Germany's main industrial lobby group is calling for a swift coalition deal to form a new government following Sunday's parliamentary elections.

BDI chief Dieter Kempf says companies need a clear signal "in order to avert damaging Germany."

Chancellor Angela Merkel looks set to form a government again if her Christian Democratic Union can reach an agreement with the pro-business Free Democrats and the left-wing Greens parties.

Merkel's current coalition partner, the Social Democrats, say they plan to go into opposition after suffering their worst election result since World War II.

Kempf says it is important to invest in Germany's ailing infrastructure. He also is slamming the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, which received about 13 percent of the vote Sunday, saying that "at its core it stands against everything that makes Germany strong."

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12:15 a.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has held onto her legislative constituency in the far northeast of the country.

Merkel received 44 percent of the votes in the district where she was first elected in 1990 — more than twice the number of votes her closest rival from the nationalist Alternative for Germany took.

The result nevertheless reflects some of the disgruntlement expressed by voters toward Merkel in this election. It is down more than 12 percentage points from the election in 2013.

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11 p.m.

German internet users are flocking to Twitter to express their opposition to the surging nationalist party AfD.

The upstart Alternative for Germany is expected to win close to 100 seats in the German parliament after taking about 13 percent of the vote in Sunday's federal election.

Using the hashtag #87Prozent — German for "87 percent" — Twitter users who didn't vote for AfD are stating their hopes for the coming four years.

Corinna Leppin posted: "Less populism and hatred, more solidarity and politics that tackles problems."

Another user, Jonathan Hirsch, wrote that he hopes "voters' concerns will be treated in such a way that they'll never vote for populists in protest again."

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9:35 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pledging to form a stable government for Germany and is making clear that she doesn't plan to try running a minority government.

Merkel's current coalition partners, the center-left Social Democrats, said after Sunday's election that they won't join the next government. Germany has no tradition of minority governments, so that would leave Merkel trying to thrash out an untried coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats and left-leaning Greens.

Asked on German public television whether a minority government of just her own conservative Union bloc is conceivable, Merkel replied: "I think that stable German governments are a value in itself, that our whole parliamentary system is different from those in countries that have a long tradition of minority governments."

She added: "I don't see it. I have the intention of achieving a stable government in Germany."

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8:50 p.m.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is appealing to other German parties to show responsibility "in stormy times" in a bitter exchange with her defeated challenger.

Center-left challenger Martin Schulz, whose Social Democrats were the junior partners in Merkel's outgoing government, said shortly after exit polls showed his party headed for a historic election defeat Sunday that it would go into opposition.

In a television discussion involving major party leaders, he accused Merkel of conducting a "scandalous" campaign that avoided debate and created "a vacuum" that the nationalist Alternative for Germany party filled.

Turning to the leaders of the smaller Free Democrats and Greens, her likely future coalition partners, he said: "To keep the chancellery, Ms. Merkel will make any concession."

Merkel said: "We live in stormy times, we know that. So I appeal to everyone to keep taking responsibility."

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8:40 p.m.

Hundreds of anti-Alternative for Germany demonstrators have descended upon the club where the nationalist party's leaders are celebrating their third-place finish in Germany's election.

Shouting "All Berlin hates the AfD!" ''Nazi pigs!" and other slogans Sunday, several protesters threw bottles as police kept them away from the building in Berlin.

The protesters had been holding a demonstration against the AfD in nearby Alexanderplatz earlier in the evening.

The anti-migrant AfD party won about 13 percent of the vote in Sunday's election, meaning it will enter Germany's parliament for the first time. Major Jewish groups have also expressed alarm and dismay about the nationalists' strong showing on Sunday.

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8:10 p.m.

Major Jewish groups are expressing alarm and dismay that the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany has won seats in Germany's parliament.

German Central Council of Jews President Josef Schuster says the party, known by its German initials AfD, "tolerates far-right thoughts and agitates against minorities."

He said he expects Germany's other parties will "reveal the true face of the AfD and unmask their empty, populist promises."

The head of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, congratulated Chancellor Angela Merkel on securing a fourth term, calling her a "true friend of Israel and the Jewish people." He denounced the AfD as "a disgraceful reactionary movement which recalls the worst of Germany's past."

Among the AfD remarks condemned by Jewish groups, co-leader Alexander Gauland recently said no other country has faced up to past crimes the way Germany has and the Nazi years "today don't affect our identity anymore."

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7:25 p.m.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has congratulated the nationalist Alternative for Germany party on entering the German parliament.

Le Pen, who lost France's presidential election to Emmanuel Macron earlier this year, wrote on Twitter: "Bravo to our allies from AfD for this historic score! It's a new symbol of the awakening of the peoples of Europe."

Projections showed Alternative for Germany, or AfD, finishing third in Sunday's election with about 13 percent of the vote — enough for the party to enter parliament for the first time.

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7:15 p.m.

The co-leader of the anti-migrant nationalist Alternative for Germany, which will be entering parliament for the first time, says her party will provide "constructive opposition."

The party, known by its German initials AfD, finished in third place in Sunday's election with about 13 percent of the vote, according to exit polls and early counting.

In Berlin, AfD co-leader Alice Weidel told supporters "millions of voters have entrusted us with the task of constructive opposition work in parliament."

Other parties in parliament have pledged not to work with the AfD and the Greens were particularly strong Sunday night, with co-leaders Katrin Goering-Eckardt and Cem Ozdemir telling supporters that there were "again Nazis in parliament."

Goering-Eckardt told the cheering crowd: "We will not let one single attack on German democracy stand."

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7:10 p.m.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's often-awkward Bavarian conservative ally says the German election result shows that their conservative bloc has an "open flank" to its right.

Horst Seehofer leads the Christian Social Union, the Bavaria-only partner of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. The two campaign together in national elections and have a joint caucus in the national government.

Merkel and Seehofer were frequently at odds at the height of Europe's migrant crisis, with Seehofer demanding an annual cap on migrant numbers that Merkel rejected.

Projections Sunday showed the Union bloc finishing first but well behind its result four years ago, with AfD becoming the first party right of the conservatives to win seats in about 60 years.

Seehofer said the conservatives have "an open flank to the right, so it is particularly important that we close this flank with ... clear political positions."

___

7 p.m.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has claimed a mandate to form a new German government with her conservative bloc. She's also vowing to win back voters from the nationalist Alternative for Germany party after it got enough support to enter parliament.

Projections show Merkel's conservative Union bloc finishing first in Sunday's election but well short of its election results in 2013. Supporters at party headquarters greeted her with cheers, applause and chants of "Angie!"

Merkel conceded that "of course we would have preferred a better result, that's completely clear." But she noted that her party has been in power for 12 years and said the last four years have been "extremely challenging."

Alternative for Germany, or AfD, has been harshly critical of Merkel and her decision to let in large numbers of migrants in the last two years. Merkel told her supporters that "we want to win back AfD voters" by solving the country's problems and addressing their concerns.

___

6:40 p.m.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-left challenger, Martin Schulz, has conceded defeat in Germany's election.

Projections for ARD and ZDF public television showed Schulz's Social Democrats on course for their worst result in post-World War II Germany in Sunday's election, with support of only 20-21 percent.

Schulz told supporters at party headquarters that "today is a difficult and bitter day." He added that "we have lost the federal election."

Schulz said that the party had been successful as the junior partner in Merkel's outgoing coalition government, citing its introduction of a national minimum wage among other things. But he conceded that "we clearly didn't manage to maintain and expand our traditional voter base."

___

6:35 p.m.

Supporters of the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party broke out in cheers as election polls indicated they'd emerged as the third-strongest party in Germany's election, and co-leader Alexander Gauland vowed they'd "change this country."

Gauland promised supporters Sunday that the party, known by its German initials AfD, would stay on the heels of the country's established parties.

Gauland says "we will chase them. We will chase Merkel or whomever else."

Exit polls suggest the AfD finished with about 13 percent of the vote, giving them seats in parliament for the first time. The Social Democrats were in second place with about 21 percent and Merkel's conservative bloc with about 33.5 percent.

Gauland says "this is a great day in the history of our party, we are in parliament! We will change this country."

___

6:20 p.m.

Leaders of Germany's Social Democratic Party say they plan to go into the opposition after their disappointing second-place finish in Germany's election.

The Social Democrats have been Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior coalition partner for the last four years but finished with only about 21 percent of the vote Sunday, according to early exit polls.

Their decision complicates things for Merkel, who will have to look to other parties to form a new government coalition.

The head of the Social Democrat's parliamentary caucus, Thomas Oppermann, and party deputy leader Manuela Schwesig both said immediately after the results the party would go into opposition.

Schweisig said on ZDF television "for us it is very clear that the voters have given us the task of going ahead as the strongest party in opposition."

___

6:05 p.m.

Exit polls suggest Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc has finished first in Germany's election, putting her in a position to lead the country for a fourth term.

Exit polls conducted for public television channels ARD and ZDF suggested support for Merkel's conservatives was between 32.5 and 33.5 percent in Sunday's vote.

They indicate challenger Martin Schulz's Social Democrats trailed in second place with between 20 and 21 percent support.

The polls also suggested that the anti-migrant, nationalist Alternative for Germany party will enter the national parliament for the first time with 13 to 13.5 percent support.

___

5:30 p.m.

Mainstream German political parties are urging voters via Twitter to cast their ballots against the nationalist anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party.

Using the party's German initials, AfD, the Social Democratic Party tweeted Sunday: "The AfD is a right-wing extremist party that doesn't belong in parliament. Talk to your friends and relatives. And get voting!"

AfD's Frauke Petry, a party chairwoman, fired back in a tweet of her own: "Live with it comrades, the trend to the left is over today."

The Greens also targeted the AfD, saying "For integration and tolerance! For a clear YES to a strong Europe! Against right-populism and AfD!"

To that Petry answered: "The bill for your hate tirade will be punctually at 1800" — or 6 p.m., when the polls close in Germany.

The AfD is expected to enter the German parliament for the first time after Sunday's vote.

___

4:15 p.m.

Germany's federal election authority says national voter turnout is slightly down so far compared to the last election in 2013.

Polls have been open since 8 a.m. and the Federal Returning Officer said that as of 2 p.m. Sunday 41.1 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots.

That was down slightly from 2013, where 41.4 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots by 2 p.m. That election ended up with 71.5 percent overall participation.

The office urged Germans to get out and cast their ballots, noting that polls were open until 6 p.m. Absentee ballots aren't considered as part of the turnout and there are expected to be a record number this year.

___

2:45 p.m.

Angela Merkel, who is seeking a fourth term as chancellor in Germany, has voted at a polling station near her home in Berlin's Mitte neighborhood.

Merkel and her husband Joachim Sauer, who shielded both of them with an umbrella against the cold drizzle, were surrounded by dozens of reporters as they cast their vote Sunday. The couple smiled and nodded at bystanders.

The chancellor's conservative bloc has a healthy lead in the polls. Surveys in the last week show Merkel's bloc leading with between 34 to 37 percent support, followed by the Social Democrats with 21 to 22 percent.

First exit polls are expected after German's polling stations close at 6 p.m. (1600GMT).

___

8 a.m.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is widely expected to win a fourth term in office as Germans go to the polls in an election that is also likely to see the farthest right-wing party in 60 years, the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany, win seats in parliament.

Merkel has campaigned on her record as chancellor for 12 years, emphasizing the country's record-low unemployment, strong economic growth, balanced budget and growing international importance.

That's helped keep her conservative bloc well atop the polls ahead of Sunday's election over the center-left Social Democrats of challenger Martin Schulz.

___

8 a.m.

Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Party and its sister party, the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, have governed Germany for the last four years with the Social Democrats in a "grand coalition." Most forecasts suggest that coalition will win another majority in Sunday's election outcome, but several different coalition government combinations could be possible.

The latest polls had Merkel's conservative bloc at 34 to 37 percent support, the center-left Social Democrats with 21 to 22 percent and the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany, or AfD, with 10 to 13 percent support.

Germany's president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, appealed to his fellow citizens to go out and vote, because "these elections are also about the future of democracy and the future of Europe."

Pollsters say many of the 61.5 million Germans who were eligible to vote had remained undecided until the very last moment.

___

8 a.m.

Countries across Europe have seen a rise of anti-migrant and populist parties in recent elections and several German pollsters have forecast that the anti-migrant, anti-Europe Alternative for Germany may come in as Germany's third-strongest party.

The AfD appears assured of gaining seats in the national parliament for the first time.

The AfD has led an aggressive campaign that was dominated by hostile slogans against the more than 1 million mostly Muslim migrants who arrived in Germany in the last two years. They're aiming to grab votes from conservatives who in the past have voted for Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, but are unhappy with her welcoming stance toward refugees.

In addition to the Social Democrats and the AfD, the Greens, the Free Democratic Party and the Left Party were all poised to enter parliament with poll numbers between 8 and 11 percent.

___

David Rising and Kerstin Sopke contributed reporting from Berlin.

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