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Germany's far-right AfD comes ahead of Merkel's centre-right CDU in regional election

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Björn Höcke, Alternative for Germany (AfD) leader in Thuringia, attends a party election night after the Thuringia state election in Erfurt
Björn Höcke, Alternative for Germany (AfD) leader in Thuringia, attends a party election night after the Thuringia state election in Erfurt -
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REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
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Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) beat German Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union in a regional election in the east of Germany, according to an ARD exit poll.

The far-left incumbent party Linke came first, polls showed, in the eastern state of Thuringia, making AfD the second strongest party in the state after rising 13 percentage points there.

After gaining seats in the national parliament for the first time in 2017, the AfD is trying to build momentum in the east and campaigned in Thuringia for "Wende 2.0", adding an 'updated version' to the word used to describe the fall of East German Communism.

"The sun is rising above the East and soon, we will let the sun shine above all of Germany," Bjoern Hoecke, the AfD's leader in the state, said after the release of exit polls.

CDU General Secretary Paul Ziemiak talked of a bitter day for the party in Thuringia. Exit polls showed Merkel's party had dropped nearly 11 percentage points since the last election.

Co-chair of the Green party Annalena Baerbock said she was "shocked" by the result of the AfD party "whose candidate is a fascist". Baerbock said it was a tough campaign for the Green party that received just 5.4% of the vote according to two exit polls.

The election also dealt a significant blow to the Social Democrats who received just 8.6% according to the ARD exit poll. An exit poll by Forschungsgruppe Wahlen (FGW) showed the Social Democrats at 8.3%.

The AfD surged in two eastern German states, Saxony and Brandenburg in early September. The AfD came second to Merkel's CDU in Saxony and second to the Social Democrats in Brandenburg gaining considerable percentage points since 2014.

Thuringia's Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow said that he was proud and pleased about the high turnout - at 65%.

Asked about the AfD result, Ramelow said that AfD regional leader Björn Höcke was far from being in charge of the government.

Höcke takes a hardline anti-immigrant stance and has been criticised by mainstream politicians and Jewish leaders for calling Berlin's Holocaust memorial a "monument of shame".

The election comes shortly after a shooting near a synagogue in the Thuringia that the Interior Minister later classified as an "anti-semitic attack".

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