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Wednesday, Jul 18, 2018
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German chancellor says migration meeting a 'first exchange'

BEIRUT (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday said an upcoming meeting of European leaders in Brussels would be a "first exchange" toward finding solutions and agreements to problems connected with migration.

Speaking at a press conference in the Lebanese capital, she characterized Sunday's planned emergency gathering as a "consultative and working meeting at which there will be no closing declaration."

Merkel is visiting the Middle East amid a serious domestic row over migration that's straining her ruling coalition.

Bavaria's Christian Social Union party demands that some migrants should be turned back at Germany's borders, and has given her two weeks to reach agreement with European partners. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, the CSU's leader, is threatening to go ahead unilaterally with his plans if she doesn't — potentially threatening the governing coalition. Merkel rejects the idea of taking unilateral action.

The meeting on Sunday among leaders from a group of EU countries, led by Germany and France, is intended to thrash out possible solutions. It comes ahead of a full summit of the 28-nation EU next Thursday and Friday.

"What it's about on Sunday is talking with particularly affected nations about all problems connected with migration — primary migration as well as secondary migration — and, following on from Sunday, seeing whether we can reach, bi-, tri- or even multinational agreements to better solve certain problems," she said.

"So Sunday is a first exchange with interested member states — it was open to all member states, but of course not every country is affected in the same way — no more and no less than a working and consultative meeting."

Asked whether she expects her governing coalition to stay together, she replied: "I am working so that the coalition can fulfill the tasks it set itself in the coalition agreement, and we have plenty to do; we have achieved some things already."

Earlier on Friday, Merkel tossed a ball with students and passed out jerseys from Germany's national soccer team, currently competing in the World Cup, during a visit to a public school in the Lebanese capital, where many of the students are Syrian refugees.

"We try to help you get an education," she told one student in English.

There are over a million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, representing nearly a quarter of the population. This makes Lebanon the largest host country in the region, putting a huge strain on the economy. In 2017, Germany gave Lebanon 370 million euros to help with the refugees and in a statement released Wednesday, the EU adopted a support package to Lebanon of 165 million euros ($191 million) to help cope with hosting refugees.

At the joint press conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Merkel promised to continue supporting Lebanon and said Germany wants to contribute toward a political solution to the crisis in Syria that would enable the return of refugees to the war-torn country.

She also met with the president as well as with representatives of United Nations agencies and Lebanese businessmen during her trip.

A day earlier in Jordan, another major refugee host country, Merkel promised a $100 million loan in addition to bilateral aid. She said she hopes the additional funds will help Jordan carry out economic reforms sought by the International Monetary Fund.

Earlier on Thursday, in a question-and-answer session with students at the German Jordanian University, Merkel said the refugee influx in recent years, including from Syria, had stirred debate in Germany over fundamental questions.

"I am on the side of those, and this is fortunately the majority in Germany, who say we need to be an open country," she said, adding that "of course we need to regulate this."

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