German coalition fails to resolve rift on refugees

BERLIN - Germany's ruling coalition failed at crunch talks Sunday to resolve major differences over the country's refugees policy as it braces for the biggest influx since World War II.

The spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, Steffen Seibert, said after two rounds of weekend negotiations among party leaders that meetings would continue this week.

"The three leaders of the coalition parties held constructive talks on all aspects of the refugee situation and will gather again on Thursday ahead of a conference of German state leaders," Seibert said in a statement.

"They agree on several points, as well as on several points that still need to be resolved including the issue of 'transit zones'," he said, referring to a proposal to create airport-style processing points on Germany's borders to allow would-be refugees who do not fulfil asylum criteria to be moved out quickly.

Merkel called the emergency talks after her Bavarian ally, Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union (CSU) party, threatened her with unspecified consequences if she did not take action to limit the number of newcomers arriving into Germany by Sunday.

The vast majority of the up to one million people arriving in the country this year are crossing the border from Austria into Bavaria.

While most Germans initially backed Merkel's open-doors policy for those fleeing war and persecution, a growing backlash has piled pressure on the chancellor and exposed rifts within her conservative bloc.

The popular Merkel, who will mark a decade in power this month, has governed since 2013 in a left-right "grand coalition" with her Christian Union alliance and the Social Democrats (SPD).

The SPD has rejected the conservatives' transit zones proposal as too restrictive and called instead for each of Germany's 16 states to create registration centres for asylum seekers.

Germany, Europe's top economy and number one destination for migrants and refugees, has taken a range of steps in recent weeks to stem the tide.

These include limiting the right to political asylum to exceptional cases for nationals from Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo, and accelerating expulsion procedures for those denied asylum.

On Friday, Germany announced that the influx massing at its border with Austria would now be funnelled through five entry points to foster a more "orderly" passage.