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Bavarian ally backs Merkel in row over refugee policy

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s most senior Bavarian ally rushed to her defense in an escalating row over her refugee policy, saying his finance minister’s reaction to the attacks in Paris was “totally inappropriate”.

Migrants walk along a street after passing the Austrian-German border near Wegscheid, Germany, November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

The coordinated assault in the French capital, in which at least 129 people were killed, has fueled a debate in Germany over Merkel’s welcoming approach to migrants and on how to pin down better intelligence about people entering the country.

The holder of a Syrian passport found near the body of one of the gunmen from Friday night’s attacks passed through Greece in October, a Greek minister said, and another suspected attacker was thought to have entered Europe the same way.

Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Soeder had cranked up pressure on Merkel to reverse her “open-door” refugee policy, saying the attacks in Paris underlined the need for tougher measures to control the influx of migrants.

“The days of uncontrolled immigration and illegal entry can’t continue just like that. Paris changes everything,” Soeder told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

“The CSU stands behind the chancellor, but it would be good if Angela Merkel acknowledged that the opening of the border for an unlimited period of time was a mistake,” Soeder said.

His comments triggered a sharp rebuke by Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer, leader of Merkel’s sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

He said it was “totally inappropriate” to criticize the chancellor in times when all democrats should stand united. Seehofer added migration and terrorism were two topics that had to be separated clearly.

This echoed earlier comments from Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who both warned against making any hasty links between the assault in Paris and the refugee debate.

German officials indicated that Merkel saw no reason to revise her stance on refugees in the wake of the Paris attacks.

But the chancellor repeated her call for strengthening Europe’s external borders when speaking on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Turkey.

The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence services called for “orderly procedures” regarding the handling of the daily entry of thousands of refugees and warned extremists could exploit the sometimes chaotic migration situation.

While German police are currently conducting passport checks at border crossings and in border areas, thousands of refugees are thought to be coming into the country without any checks.

Additional reporting by Noah Barkin and Gernot Heller; Writing by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Ros Russell/Ruth Pitchford