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Angela Merkel dealt setback in state election

BERLIN — Germany’s center-left opposition won a wafer-thin victory in a major state election Sunday, according to official results. The outcome is a setback to Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of a national vote later this year.

With votes from most precincts in Lower Saxony state counted, ARD and ZDF television projected a single-seat majority for the opposition Social Democrats and Greens over Merkel’s center-right coalition.

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Lower Saxony, a region of 8 million people in northwestern Germany, has been run for a decade by a coalition of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union and the pro-market Free Democrats, the same parties that form the national government.

The 58-year-old Merkel will seek a third four-year term in a parliamentary election expected in September.

Merkel and her party are riding high in the polls for the national election, but the opposition hopes the Lower Saxony vote will show that she is vulnerable.

Merkel’s CDU won about 36 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election for a new state legislature in Lower Saxony. The opposition Social Democrats and Greens also had a combined total of about 36 percent, but gained a one-seat majority in the legislature. The Free Democrats won about 10 percent.

Before the election, the question had been whether the Free Democrats would even win the 5 percent needed to gain seats in the state legislature. But tactical voting by supporters of Merkel’s conservatives, who polled more than 42 percent in Lower Saxony’s last election in 2008, appeared to have saved the party.

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