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Merkel takes tough line on integration to party cheers

MAINZ, Germany (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel told conservative party members on Saturday that immigrants needed to do more to integrate into German society, including learning the language and obeying “every single” law.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel German speaks during a regional party conference of the Christian Democratic party CDU in Rhineland-Palatinate in Mainz, September 25, 2010. REUTERS/Alex Domanski

Merkel, whose popularity has plunged since she won re-election a year ago, appeared to be reaching out to the right wing of her Christian Democrats (CDU) -- which has complained about her pushing the party toward the political center.

Her comments follow weeks of heated debate over a best-selling book by ex-central banker Thilo Sarrazin, in which he accuses Turkish and Arab immigrants of lowering Germany’s intelligence quotient and living off the state.

Merkel and most of Germany’s political establishment initially condemned Sarrazin, but his views struck a chord with the public and many right-wing members of her CDU.

“Anyone who wants to live here in our country has to obey our laws, want to learn our language and accept the rules of our society and every single article of our constitution,” Merkel told a cheering CDU party meeting in the western town of Mainz.

“That means everything from equal rights for women and everything else -- that’s our motto and there’s no tolerance for anything else,” said Merkel, whose center-right coalition has fallen about 15 points behind the opposition in opinion polls.

There are about four million Muslims living in Germany. The vast majority are of Turkish origin and an estimated 280,000 have an Arab background.

Some are well integrated into German society, but others live in communities where Muslim traditions prevail and very little German is spoken.

In the midst of the Sarrazin debate, opinion polls showed that a substantial number of Germans would support a new party that took a tougher line on immigration -- a warning to Merkel that she must broaden her appeal to conservatives disillusioned by her shift to the left.

Anti-immigrant parties are on the rise across Europe, throwing mainstream center-right parties that have shied away from tough rhetoric on immigration onto the defensive.

“There will be demands made on those who don’t want to be helped,” Merkel said, calling integration a “vital task for the future.”

“If there is any corner of a city where police have the feeling they aren’t welcome anymore, there must be a public outcry,” Merkel said. “The state monopoly of power must be valid everywhere. Otherwise, it would be the end of our democracy.”

Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Noah Barkin