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Germany

Malu Dreyer takes the reins in Rhineland-Palatinate

Social Democrat Malu Dreyer is the new state premier in Rhineland-Palatinate. The 51-year-old officially took over from Kurt Beck, in office for more than 18 years, after unsurprisingly clearing a parliamentary vote.

Marie-Luise ("Malu") Dreyer won 60 of 100 valid votes in the regional parliament in Mainz on Wednesday - exactly the number of seats held by the ruling Social Democrat (SPD) and Green coalition - confirming that she would succeed Kurt Beck as the state premier of Rhineland-Palatinate.

She thus became the fourth female German state premier, along with Hannelore Kraft in North-Rhine Westphalia, Christine Lieberknecht in Thuringia and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in Saarland. Dreyer and Kraft are both Social Democrats, while Lieberknecht and Kramp-Karrenbauer are members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats.

The new state premier used her acceptance speech to urge cooperation with the Christian Democrat opposition in Rhineland-Palatinate.

"I would like to suggest to you above all that we talk to each other," Dreyer said. The state's top Christian Democrat, Julia Klöckner, said she would be willing to cooperate with the Dreyer.

Dreyer was the minister for social affairs in Kurt Beck's state cabinet since 2002, working as a public prosecutor before making the jump into politics in 1995 as a town mayor. Her husband, Klaus Jensen, is the mayor of Trier in Rhineland-Palatinate.

Since she was 30, Dreyer has suffered from multiple sclerosis, an inflammatory disease affecting the brain and spinal chord, and has never hidden her illness. When Kurt Beck announced that he was stepping down due to health reasons, a surprising move from the longest-serving state premier Germany, Dreyer said she felt fit for the task ahead.

Beck will remain chairman of the board of governors of the ZDF public broadcaster, and also continue as acting chairman of the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation – an organization promoting democratization and social values with close ties to the SPD.

The self-styled "state Father" Beck had come under fire last year when the Nürburgring race circuit filed for insolvency. Beck had heavily supported a long-term project to expand the circuit into a major leisure park, a project that cost some 330 million euros ($438 million) and has yet to bear fruit. The track is 90-percent owned by the state - with a local municipality holding the remaining stake - and Beck's government ultimately announced further loans to keep the operation afloat.

Dreyer's term in office runs until 2016, when the next state elections in Rhineland-Palatinate are due.

msh/hc (AFP, dapd, dpa)