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Germany

Merkel focuses on Ukraine, EU elections in Bundestag

Ahead of a G7 summit in Brussels, not Russia's Sochi as originally planned, Chancellor Angela Merkel has told the German parliament "Russia's behavior in annexing Crimea made this step unavoidable."

Chancellor Angela Merkel focused on the conflict in Ukraine and the recent European Parliament elections in Wednesday's address to the Bundestag. After briefly addressing some of the less prickly issues on the G7 summit's agenda for Wednesday and Thursday, like regulating the financial sector and energy issues, Merkel turned to the summit's relocation from Russia to Belgium.

"Russia's behavior in annexing Crimea made this step unavoidable," Merkel said of Russia's suspension from the G8, in the year when Moscow held the rotating presidency of the group.

Merkel appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to "return to cooperation from confrontation."

"It's quite crucial that Putin uses his influence on the separatists so that they give up their weapons and cease violence," Merkel said.

The chancellor alluded to last month's presidential elections in Ukraine, and the apparent withdrawal of Russian troops from the border with Ukraine, as positive signals.

"But there are negative points too," cautioned Merkel. "The annexation of Crimea endures [and] observers report that the human rights situation there has deteriorated." This was also the case in eastern Ukraine, she said, adding: "we've seen this pattern before in Crimea."

Should the situation continue to deteriorate, the chancellor said Germany "would not shy away from imposing further sanctions" against Russia. She also suggested that Russia's Putin should meet with Ukraine's president-elect, Petro Poroshenko, when the two attend Friday's D-Day landings anniversary ceremony in Normandy, France.

'Germany and Britain share common goals'

Merkel also mentioned Syria's ongoing civil war and the security situation in Nigeria, Libya and other parts of the world, before moving on to last month's European Parliament elections.

Despite less major gains for euroskeptic or far-right parties in Germany, Merkel said that election results showed the need for Europe to "concentrate on what's most important, but simultaneously hold to its own rules and treaties."

In reference to efforts to name a new president of the European Commission, she said that she was in no hurry, and would work to the credo: "attention to detail rather than speed."

Merkel has come under domestic criticism for what's perceived as lukewarm support for Jean-Claude Juncker, the lead candidate from her own center-right bloc, which won the most votes but no parliamentary majority. British Prime Minister David Cameron, in particular, opposes Juncker's nomination. Merkel issued something of a rebuke, including to her own party allies, to those arguing that she could simply ignore the British premier's position.

Merkel said that the "ambivalence" with which some in Germany discussed a possible EU exit for Britain as "wantonly negligent," in what might have been a rebuke to her Bavarian allies from the Christian Social Union for their critical comments to the press.

"If the British want to risk it on their own and exit the EU, be my guest! That would indeed be a pity for Europe, but would surely cause far greater problems for the British," Hans-Peter Uhl, a foreign policy spokesman for the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's CDU said in Wednesday's edition of mass-circulation daily Bild.

After the parliamentary debate traditionally following such a government briefing, the German chancellor was scheduled to fly out to Brussels for the G7 summit.

msh/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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