Mass grave of 28 Hindus found in Myanmar: army

Thousands of Hindus have fled villages where they once lived alongside Muslims, alleging that they were targeted by militants whose August 25 raids plunged Rakhine into communal violence.

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The announcement could not be independently verified in an region where access has been tightly controlled by Myanmar’s army.

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“Security members found and dug up 28 dead bodies of Hindus who were cruelly and violently killed by ARSA extremist Bengali terrorists in Rakhine State,” a statement posted on the army chief’s website said.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) is the group whose attacks on police posts triggered an army backlash so brutal that the UN believes it amounts to ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority.

More than 430,000 Rohingya have fled the region to Bangladesh in under a month, telling stories of Myanmar soldiers teaming up with vigilante mobs to slaughter civilians and burn entire villages to the ground. 

Around 30,000 Hindus and Buddhists based in the area have also been displaced by the violence. 

Both communities have told AFP they were terrorised by Rohingya militants.

Corpses in rows

The army said that security officers found a total of 20 dead women and eight men in two graves, including six boys under the age of ten.

A strong smell led security officers to the burial site outside of Ye Baw Kya village, the army said. 

Unverifiable photos published by the government’s Information Committee showed corpses laid out in rows on grass near two mud pits where they were found.

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay confirmed the grim discovery to AFP, as did a senior police officer in Rakhine who requested anonymity. 

The village where the bodies were found, Ye Baw Kya, lies near a cluster of Hindu and Muslim communities in northern Rakhine called Kha Maung Seik.

Last week Hindus from the area told AFP that militants swept into their villages on August 25 with sticks and knives, attacking people who stood in their way, killing many and taking others into the forest.

Hindu women are believed to have been abducted by the militants.

The grim discovery of the graves will further fuel already white-hot hatred between ethnic groups in Myanmar.

The epicentre of the unrest, in northern Rakhine, is dominated by Rohingya Muslims who are a minority elsewhere and have been the target of decades of state-backed persecution and discrimination.

Around half of their estimated 1.1 million population has fled over the last year.

Northern Rakhine is also home to ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, Hindus and a myriad of other groups.

Religious tensions have simmered for years, erupting into sporadic bouts of violence. 

But the scale of the latest unrest is the worst to hit the region in years. 

While the wretched lines of Rohingya streaming into Bangladesh have shocked and alarmed the world, there is scant sympathy for the Muslim group inside Myanmar. 

Many in the Buddhist majority view the group as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite their long-established roots in the country.

Federer leads Team Europe to victory in first Laver Cup

Despite cruising through the first two days, the Europeans needed the last match to finalise the victory and show the dominance expected from a team featuring five of the world’s top seven players.

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Federer delivered in a tight 4-6 7-6(6) 11-9 win over world number 20 Nick Kyrgios, with the Australian pushing to the final point as he sought a win that would have forced an overtime doubles match to decide the tournament.

But Kyrgios squandered a chance at match point and then smashed the ball into the net to end the battle, spurring Federer’s European team mates, led by top-ranked Rafael Nadal, to leap off the bench and embrace the Swiss at the net.

“I was ready to go. I had to be. That is what a team member does. The boys played fantastic all weekend but we knew it could change very quickly on Sunday,” Federer said.

“I was looking at getting ready maybe for doubles at the end… But I got it done.”

An earlier victory from big-hitting German Alexander Zverev also helped fight off the last-day comeback from Team World, which entered the day 9-3 down after dropping six of the first eight matches.

With matches worth three points on Sunday – versus two on Saturday and one on Friday – the group battled back with Americans John Isner and Jack Sock downing Croatian Marin Cilic and Czech Tomas Berdych, who was playing in front of the hometown crowd at Prague’s O2 Arena.

The American duo limited the hard-serving Europeans to three aces in a 7-6(5) 7-6(6) victory.

Zverev, the youngest player in the top 10 at age 20, then faced Team World’s highest ranked player at number 16, Sam Querrey. He broke the American’s serve midway through the first set and never looked back en route to a 6-4 6-4 win.

GIANT KILLER

That left Nadal to face Isner, winless in six career meetings with the Spaniard. But the world number 17 rattled Nadal from the beginning and delivered a barrage of 23 aces and several forceful winners and drop shots.

“I walked to the court like I had absolutely nothing to lose and I just went for it,” Isner said.

Federer then played hero, battling back after dropping the first set to Kyrgios who had looked to keep Isner’s giant-killing momentum going.

The Laver Cup, named after Australian tennis hero Rod Laver, has won plaudits from the players. Matches were close despite fears they would be little more than an exhibition.

Federer and Nadal, the game’s top two players who split this season’s four grand slams, teamed up on Saturday, putting aside a long-running rivalry to play doubles competitively for the first time, giving fans an eagerly anticipated treat.

With next year’s play moving to Chicago, a John McEnroe-captained Team World will look to bounce back against Bjorn Borg’s Team Europe.

“We were so, so close to pulling this off,” McEnroe said.

(Reporting by Jason Hovet and Michael Kahn; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

Sydney Airport ‘radar failure’ grounds flights on first day of school holidays

All flights out of Sydney Airport were delayed on Monday morning due to a radar failure at air traffic control with a reduced amount of arrivals and departures commecning after the outage.

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Hundreds of passengers have been affected after the “technical issue” hit around 5am on Monday, on the first day of the NSW schools holidays.

“All flights at Sydney Airport are currently grounded until further notice due to an Air Traffic Control issue,” a Virgin spokeswoman told AAP.

Delays at Sydney Airport following power outages.Twitter: @NadineFloodCPSU

Flights are delayed due to an @AirservicesNews system issue. Please check with your airline for flight status. Thanks for your patience.

— Sydney Airport ✈️ (@SydneyAirport) September 24, 2017

Sydney Aiport advised if people are travelling on Monday people should check with the airline for further information.

Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar have confirmed the problem is affecting flights.

Virgin Australia said it would try to get all of its passengers on their way as quickly at it can after the problem is fixed.

“We will be contacting those guests who may be impacted but we encourage all guests to check the flight status page,” the spokeswoman said.

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Airservices Australia, which manages airport traffice control, confirmed there was an “issue”.

“At this stage we do have a confirmed technical issue at Sydney which we are trying to rectify. We are also managing flights safely,” Air Services Australia spokeswoman, Sarah Fulton told AAP.

Power in the traffic systems operations went down and air traffic control has had to revert to a manual process for departing flights, at a reduced rate, AAP understands.

Passengers at the airport have tweeted photos of a departures board with flight status reading “delayed – due ATC radar failure”.

So close! Apparently radar is down at Sydney airport. And no planes can leave, therefore all gates for, therefore I’m stuck here… pic南京夜生活,/os9Z6WYLec

— 🐐 Jase 🦄 (@BKKJase) September 24, 2017

“Flights are delayed due to an @airservices system issue. Please check with your airline for flight status. Thanks for your patience”, Sydney Airport tweeted.

Power in the traffic systems operations went down around 5am on Monday, AAP understands.

Sydney Airport tweeted that the technical issue has been resolved.

Senate opposition to Obamacare bill grows

A proposal by US Republicans to repeal and replace the Obamacare health insurance program suffered serious new setbacks when Senator Ted Cruz expressed his opposition and Senator Susan Collins dug in with strong criticisms of the legislation.

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Phil Novack, a spokesman for Cruz, confirmed that the Republican senator said at an event in Texas: “Right now, they don’t have my vote, and I don’t think they have (Senator) Mike Lee’s vote, either.”

Aides to Lee, a conservative Republican and close ally of Cruz, were not immediately available for comment.

Politico reported that Cruz complained that the latest Obamacare repeal bill did not address his concerns about bringing down the costs of healthcare.

Despite President Donald Trump’s pressure on his fellow Republicans for quick passage, Senator Susan Collins also appeared poised to oppose her party’s latest replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature achievement.

Collins, who just two days ago said she was “leaning against” the legislation, on Sunday declared in an interview on CNN “it is very difficult for me to envision a scenario where I would end up voting for this bill.”

Collins said her concerns centred on the impact the legislation would have on the federal Medicaid program, which helps disabled children and low-income elderly people get healthcare.

Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can afford to lose the support of only two Republicans, assuming all Democrats vote against the measure to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Last week, Senator John McCain, who was one of three Republicans voting in July against an earlier version, joined Senator Rand Paul in opposition.

The Senate faces a September 30 deadline for deciding on the bill under an expiring rule that lets the healthcare proposal pass with just a simple majority, instead of the 60-vote threshold needed for most legislation.

North Korea says targeting US with rockets is ‘inevitable’ as American bombers fly off coast

North Korea said on Saturday targeting the US mainland with its rockets was inevitable after “Mr Evil President” Donald Trump called Pyongyang’s leader “rocket man”, further escalating rhetoric over the North’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.

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North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho’s remarks to the United Nations General Assembly came hours after US Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers escorted by fighters flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea in a show of force the Pentagon said showed the range of military options available to Trump.

Ri’s speech capped a week of rising tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, with Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un trading insults.

Trump called Kim a “madman” on Friday, a day after Kim dubbed him a “mentally deranged US dotard.”

0:00 Bishop slams North Korea in UN speech Share Bishop slams North Korea in UN speech

On Saturday, the mudslinging continued with Ri calling Trump “a mentally deranged person full of megalomania and complacency” who is trying to turn the United Nations into a “gangsters’ nest”.

Ri said Trump himself was on a “suicide mission” after the US president had said Kim was on such a mission.

“‘President Evil’ is holding the seat of the US President,” Ri said, warning that Pyongyang was ready to defend itself if the United States showed any sign of conducting a “decapitating operation on our headquarters or military attack against our country”.

“Now we are finally only a few steps away from the final gate of completion of the state nuclear force,” Ri told the annual gathering of world leaders.

He said sanctions would have no effect on Pyongyang’s resolve to develop its nuclear weapons, with the ultimate goal being “balance of power with the US”.

0:00 North Korea threatens a powerful hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific Share North Korea threatens a powerful hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific

Trump announced new US sanctions on Thursday that he said allow targeting of companies and institutions that finance and facilitate trade with North Korea.

Earlier this month the UN Security Council unanimously adopted its ninth round of sanctions on Pyongyang to counter its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs.

The US bombers’ flight was the farthest north of the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea that any US fighter jet or bomber has flown in the 21st century, the Pentagon said.

“This mission is a demonstration of US resolve and a clear message that the President has many military options to defeat any threat,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White.

“We are prepared to use the full range of military capabilities to defend the US homeland and our allies.”

North Korea has launched dozens of missiles this year, several flying over Japan, as it accelerates its program aimed at enabling it to target the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile.

Pyongyang conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on September 3 and has threatened to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific.

Ri met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres after delivering his speech. Guterres expressed concern to Ri over the escalating tensions and appealed for de-escalation, the United Nations said in a statement.

The Pentagon said the B-1B bombers came from Guam and their US Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter escorts came from Okinawa, Japan. Previous shows of force with bombers have stayed south of the demilitarized zone.

0:00 North Korea may test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean Share North Korea may test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean

The patrols came after officials and experts said a small earthquake near North Korea’s nuclear test site on Saturday was probably not man-made, easing fears Pyongyang had exploded another nuclear bomb just weeks after its last one.

China’s Earthquake Administration said the quake was not a nuclear explosion and had the characteristics of a natural tremor.

The CTBTO, or Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organization, which monitors nuclear tests, and officials of the South Korean meteorological agency also said they believed it was a natural quake.

The earthquake, which South Korea’s Meteorological Agency put at magnitude 3.0, was detected 49 km from Kilju in North Hamgyong Province, where North Korea’s known Punggye-ri nuclear site is located, the official said.

All North Korea’s nuclear tests registered as earthquakes of magnitude 4.3 or above. The last registered as a magnitude 6.3.

Tensions have continued to rise around the Korean Peninsula since Pyongyang carried out its sixth test, prompting a new round of UN sanctions.

Trump told the United Nations on Tuesday the United States would “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatened the United States or its allies.

North Korea’s nuclear tests to date have all been underground, and experts say an atmospheric test, which would be the first since one by China in 1980, would be proof of the success of its weapons program.

The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty.

The North accuses the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, of planning to invade and regularly threatens to destroy it and its Asian allies.

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‘Our worst fears have come true’: Protests as Germany’s hard-right AfD marches into parliament

Exit polls credited the AfD with around 13 percent of the vote, making it the third biggest political force in Germany — a stunning result for a party that was founded just four years ago.

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“We will change this country,” vowed Alexander Gauland, one of the party’s top two candidates, pledging to “go after” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.

It promised that it would make it a priority to launch a parliamentary probe against Merkel over her decision to let in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015.

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After already winning seats in 13 of 16 state parliaments, the AfD will now send dozens of lawmakers to the Bundestag opposition benches, giving them a platform to spread their views, including challenging Germany’s culture of atonement over World War II and the massacre of six million Jews and others in the Holocaust.

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The AfD’s feat sparked protests in several German cities, including hundreds of people in Berlin who shouted “Nazis out” in front of a club where the party was celebrating.

It was also condemned by Jewish groups and Germany’s established political parties, but celebrated by Europe’s far-right leaders like France’s Marine Le Pen and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said “it is abhorrent that the AfD party, a disgraceful reactionary movement which recalls the worst of Germany’s past and should be outlawed, now has the ability within the German parliament to promote its vile platform”.

Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said that “unfortunately, our worst fears have come true: a party that tolerates far-right views in its ranks and incites hate against minorities in our country is today not only in almost all state parliaments but also represented in the Bundestag.”

“I expect all our democratic forces to unveil the real face of the AfD and to expose the party’s empty, populist promises,” Schuster added, calling on mainstream parties to close ranks and kick the upstarts out in the next election.

Merkel acknowledged that the party’s entry into parliament posed a “big new challenge” and vowed to “win back AfD voters”, while the Social Democratic Party’s leader Martin Schulz vowed that his party, in opposition, would act as a “bulwark against these enemies of democracy”.

0:00 Angela Merkel claims mandate to form a new government Share Angela Merkel claims mandate to form a new government

‘Bikinis, not burkas’

The AfD began life in 2013 as an anti-euro protest party but then shifted focus to capitalise on misgivings over the record migrant influx in Germany.

Its tone turned increasingly extreme in the last stretch of campaigning, with one of its two leading candidates saying Germany should be proud of its war veterans and claiming that terror was grounded in Islam.

Provocative posters declared “Burkas? We prefer bikinis” and “New Germans? Let’s make them ourselves”, featuring a pregnant white woman.

Its supporters heckled Merkel’s rallies across the country, jeering, whistling and chanting “get lost” in attempts to drown her out.

0:00 SPD leader Schulz concedes election defeat Share SPD leader Schulz concedes election defeat

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, has warned that “for the first time since the end of the second World War, real Nazis will sit in the German parliament”.

The AfD will be a pariah in parliament as all mainstream parties have ruled out working with it, but the populists could still be vocally disruptive from the opposition benches.

‘Le Pen pales in comparison’

Critics say widening social inequality is also playing into the hands of AfD populists, especially in the deindustrialised heartlands of the former communist east.

The party captured close to one in four votes in the east, where it was the second strongest party.

Thorsten Benner, head of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, said the AfD’s rise shows that “our population is no more virtuous than the French population,” and that “even Le Pen pales in comparison”.

The AfD “will challenge key themes” in parliament, he said, pointing to Germany’s culture of wartime remembrance and debate on cultural identity.

Gauland recently called for Germans to stop atoning for the past.

He also said integration commissioner Aydan Ozoguz should be “disposed of in Anatolia”, suggesting she will never be German because of her Turkish origin.

The presence of the AfD “will very much change the tone of debate in parliament,” Benner warned.

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‘Words fail us’: Hiking cannabis smokers rescued from England’s highest mountain

Mountain rescue, along with air support and ambulances, were deployed to help bring home a group of hikers who became stuck on Scafell Pike in the Lake District, in England’s north, on Saturday.

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Cumbria Police confirmed the rescue but were left unimpressed at the incident.

“Persons phoning Cumbria Police because they are stuck on a mountain after taking cannabis. Now having to deploy M’tain Rescue, Air support and Ambulance to rescue them. Words fail us,” a Facebook post read.

Persons stuck on mountain, after taking cannabis. Having to deploy M’tain Rescue, Air support and Ambulance to rescue them…..

— Cumbria Police (@Cumbriapolice) September 23, 2017Persons rescued after becoming incapable of walking due to cannabis use. MRT volunteers putting themselves at risk to prevent harm.

— Cumbria Police (@Cumbriapolice) September 23, 2017

“Persons rescued by MRT, after becoming incapable of walking off mountain due to cannabis use. MRT volunteers putting themselves at risk to prevent harm,” another post read.

Scafell Pike has a peak of 978 metres and the group were safely rescued by Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team at 9:45pm local time.

North Cumbria Superintendent Justin Bibby said taking drugs before taking a difficult hike was asking for trouble.

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“The mountain rescue team had a particularly busy day yesterday dealing with this incident,’ Superintendednt Bibby told UK paper The Telegraph.

“They are volunteers, they do an amazing job and are always there to assist those who get into difficulty.

“Taking alcohol or any other substance that could impair your judgment significantly increases your risk of getting into trouble. It has no place on a mountain.”

Same-sex marriage support drops: poll

Support for same-sex marriage has fallen ahead of a national survey on the issue, according to Newspoll.

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The proportion of voters who support same-sex marriage now stands at 57 per cent, compared to 63 per cent in August and 62 per cent in September last year.

The no vote has lifted to 34 per cent, from 30 per cent in August and 32 per cent a year ago.

About nine per cent are uncommitted.

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Newspoll, published in The Australian on Monday, collated its results from a survey of 1695 voters polled across the nation over four days from Thursday.

Support for same-sex marriage was highest amongst Labor and Greens voters, at 70 per cent and 85 per cent respectively.

But conservative voters are trailing, with coalition backers polling 47 per cent, alongside 35 per cent for One Nation supporters.

0:00 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Lucy Turnbull post their same sex marriage survey Share Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Lucy Turnbull post their same sex marriage survey

Newspoll also found the federal coalition government is behind the Labor opposition in two-party preferred terms, at 46 per cent to 54 per cent.

Malcolm Turnbull has again lost ground to Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister and now sits on a 42 per cent approval rating against 31 per cent for the opposition leader, a four-point fall since the last poll.

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Federer downs Kyrgios for Laver Cup win

Nick Kyrgios had one match point but it was Roger Federer who ultimately prevailed 4-6 7-6 (8-6) 11-9 to clinch the inaugural Laver Cup for Europe.

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In an intense match in Prague, Kyrgios often had Federer on the ropes but just couldn’t get over the line as the Swiss star secured the victory, leaving the 22-year-old Canberran in tears.

If Kyrgios had been able to win, it would have tied the scores between the world and European teams and forced a final doubles match.

“It was tough”, Kyrgios said of the loss.

“When I’m playing for myself, sometimes I don’t put the greatest effort in. When I play with these guys I’m playing for something as a team.

“I’m playing for the whole team. It’s the same in Davis Cup. I’m playing for the country, playing for the guys on the bench.

“I know that every single one of these guys up here has put effort into this week, whether that’s practice or supporting other guys.

“We all bought in as a team. That’s why it hurt. I gave everything I had. I came up short, and I knew that we were going to be favourites going to the doubles. That was in the back of my mind.”

After the pre-match warm-up, the Australian – who usually crouches at the net before the first game – took a knee.

It sparked speculation he was showing solidarity with more than 100 American NFL players, who themselves knelt during the playing of their national anthem before matches on Sunday.

They were protesting against comments by US President Donald Trump, who on Saturday said that those who failed to stand for the anthem should be fired by NFL teams.

Kyrgios though rebuffed the claims in the post-match press conference.

“F**k no. Serious?” The Australian responded to the question from journalists.

“I’m doing that before most matches just to remember, you know, the two most important people that have passed away.”

Kyrgios got the only break of serve in the first set but soon found himself a break down at the beginning of the second.

But after a medical time out, the Australian broke back and took it to a tiebreak.

He saved three set points in the breaker but 19-time grand slam champion Federer eventually levelled things up.

The match then went to a champions tiebreak which Kyrgios led 6-2 at one point.

But Federer battled back and Team Europe got the point needed for victory when Kyrgios sent a forehand into the net.

“It has been such an amazing and fun week and I’m so pleased the event has worked as it has,” Federer said post-match.

The world team had clawed their way back into the tournament on Sunday with a win in the doubles match, while John Isner beat Rafael Nadal 7-5 7-6 (7-1).

Merkel wins fourth term in Germany but far right leaders congratulate rise of AfD

It comes after Chancellor Angela Merkel clinched a fourth term in Germany’s election on Sunday, but her victory was clouded by the hard-right AfD party winning its first seats in parliament.

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“Bravo to our AfD allies for this historic score,” tweeted Le Pen, defeated by Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential election run-off four months ago.

“Angie! Angie! Angie!” #BTW17 @SBSNews pic南京夜生活,/zB0KEp9mBX

— Brett Mason (@BrettMasonNews) September 24, 2017

Le Pen hailed the AfD after its breakthrough score of 13 percent, enough for close on 90 seats, saying the party was a “new symbol of (the) reawakening of European peoples.”

Wilders, head of the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), also tweeted his congratulations.

“The PVV is number two in the Netherlands, the FN is number two in France, the (far right) FPOe is second in Austria, AfD is third in Germany. The message is clear. We are not Islamic nations,” wrote Wilders, whose party captured 20 seats in a March election.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves the stage at the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Union CDU in Berlin, Germany.AAP

One AfD (Alternative for Germany) Euro MP already sits alongside five FN lawmakers and four PVV colleagues in the European Parliament.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday he called German Chancellor Angela Merkel to congratulate her on winning a fourth term in office and said France and Germany would forge ahead with their cooperation.

“I called Angela Merkel to congratulate her. We continue with determination our vital cooperation for Europe and for our countries,” Macron tweeted.

Fourth term

Chancellor Angela Merkel clinched a fourth term in Germany’s election Sunday, but her victory was clouded by the entry into parliament of the hard-right AfD in the best showing for a nationalist force since World War II.

Ms Merkel, who after 12 years in power held a double-digit lead for most of the campaign, scored about 33 per cent of the vote with her conservative Christian Union (CDU/CSU) bloc, according to preliminary results.

It was their worst score since 1949.

Its nearest rivals, the Social Democrats, and their candidate, Martin Schulz, came in a distant second with a post-war record low of 21 per cent.

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But in a bombshell for the German establishment – the anti-Islam, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) – captured about 13 per cent, catapulting it to become the country’s third biggest political force.

Commentators called the AfD’s strong performance a “watershed moment” in the history of the German republic.

The top-selling Bild daily spoke of a “political earthquake”.

AfD supporters gathered at a Berlin club, cheering as public television reported the outcome, many joining in a chorus of the German national anthem.

First German election exit poll:

CDU / CSU – 32.5%

SPD – 20%

AfD – 13.5%

FDP – 10.5%

Greens – 9.5%

Left – 9%@SBSNews pic南京夜生活,/MRGefxbuhB

— Brett Mason (@BrettMasonNews) September 24, 2017

Hundreds of protesters rallied outside shouting “Nazis out!” while smaller AfD demonstrations were held in other cities across the country.

The four-year-old nationalist party with links to the far-right French National Front and Britain’s UKIP has been shunned by Germany’s mainstream but was able to build on particularly strong support in the ex-communist east.

It is now headed for the opposition benches of the Bundestag lower house, dramatically boosting its visibility and state financing.

Alarmed by the prospect of what Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel branded “real Nazis” entering parliament, the candidates had used their final days of campaigning to implore voters to reject the populists.

Turnout was markedly higher than four years ago, up to around 76 percent from 71.5 percent.

Angela #Merkel has reappeared at the #CDU election party in #berlin to thank campaigners and supporters @SBSNews #BTW17 pic南京夜生活,/J6IuTcgfB5

— Brett Mason (@BrettMasonNews) September 24, 2017I just asked #Merkel’s Chief of Staff if she accepts her handling of the 2015 humanitarian crisis contributed to tonight’s result #BTW17 1/2

— Brett Mason (@BrettMasonNews) September 24, 2017“If we have suffered some losses, I believe it was justified. This is the distinction between a populist party and a responsible party” 2/2

— Brett Mason (@BrettMasonNews) September 24, 2017″We did what was in the interests of the country, our neighbours and in the interest of world-wide stability.”

— Brett Mason (@BrettMasonNews) September 24, 2017’Big new challenge’

Ms Merkel admitted she had fallen far short of the 40 per cent goal her party set.

“There’s a big new challenge for us, and that is the entry of the AfD in the Bundestag,” Ms Merkel said, adding: “We want to win back AfD voters.”

Germans elected a splintered parliament, reflecting a nation torn between a relatively high degree of satisfaction with Ms Merkel and a desire for change after more than a decade of her leadership.

Another three parties cleared the five per cent hurdle to be represented in parliament – the liberal Free Democrats at about 10 per cent and the anti-capitalist Left and ecologist Greens, both at about nine per cent.

As Ms Merkel failed to secure a ruling majority on her own and with the dejected SPD ruling out another right-left “grand coalition” with her, the process of forming a viable government was shaping up to be a thorny, months-long process.

Ms Merkel, 63, often called the most powerful woman on the global stage, ran on her record as a steady pair of hands in a turbulent world, warning voters not to indulge in “experiments”.

Pundits said Ms Merkel’s reassuring message of stability and prosperity resonated in greying Germany, where more than half of the 61 million voters are aged 52 or older.

Her popularity had largely recovered from the influx since 2015 of more than one million mostly Muslim migrants and refugees, half of them from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Grand coalition” took #Merkel 80 days to negotiate. CDU officials tell @SBSNews these negotiations “could take much longer” #BTW17 @SBSNews

— Brett Mason (@BrettMasonNews) September 24, 2017Breaking taboos 

But the AfD was able to capitalise on anger over the asylum issue during what was criticised as a largely lacklustre campaign bereft of real clashes among the main contenders.

The party has made breaking taboos its trademark. 

Top AfD candidate Alexander Gauland has called for Germans to shed their guilt over two world wars and the Holocaust and to take pride in their veterans.

He has also suggested that Germany’s integration commissioner Aydan Ozoguz, who has Turkish roots, should be “disposed of in Anatolia”.

Law student Sabine Maier dismissed the AfD as “too extreme” as she voted in Berlin, but added that “they aren’t all fascists”.

Merkel bound for ‘Jamaica’?

The SPD said its catastrophic result would lead it to seek a stint in opposition to rekindle its fighting spirit.

“This is a difficult and bitter day for German social democracy,” a grim-faced Mr Schulz, a former European Parliament chief, told reporters – adding he hoped to remain party leader.  

This would leave Ms Merkel in need of new coalition partners.

If the SPD sticks to its refusal to play ball, mathematically the most likely scenario would be a link-up with the pro-business Free Democrats, who staged a comeback after crashing out of parliament four years ago, and the left-leaning Greens.

That so-called “Jamaica” coalition, based on the party colours and the Caribbean nation’s flag, would be a risky proposition, given the differences between the parties on issues ranging from climate policy to migration issues.

Mr Schulz, 61, struggled to gain traction with his calls for a more socially just Germany at a time when the economy is humming and employment is at a record low.

Meanwhile Ms Merkel faced accusations from within her conservative camp she had left its “right flank exposed” to the AfD’s challenge with her centrist stance on issues such as border policy.

“This is competition for the Union and the conservative spectrum in general,” political scientist Lothar Probst of the University of Bremen said of the AfD.

“A very difficult period is beginning for the chancellor.”