German Chancellor Angela Merkel is stepping down as leader of her party – marking the beginning of the end for a four-term ruler whose politics have defined Europe but divided her country.
Merkel’s 18 years at the head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and 13 years as chancellor have seen Germany transformed into an economic and diplomatic force. The leader known as Germany’s “mother” became the chief powerbroker of the European Union.
But her decision to allow in more than a million migrants during the peak of the 2015 crisis spawned the rise of far-right movements and crushed poll results for mainstream parties, including her own.
She’s also faced criticism for failing to heal the divide between the former Communist east of the country, where incomes and pensions remain lower some 31 years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Public demonstrations by movements on the far-left and far-right are once again a daily reality in Germany.
“There is now an invisible wall. Before it was made of bricks and mortar. And now there is a new divide in our country,” said Winfried Wenzel, a retired engineer who once marched against Communism and now marches against Merkel.
“We are very disappointed in Mrs Merkel. She didn’t listen to the people.”
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