Angela Merkel's coalition and the centre-left opposition were neck-and-neck in exit polls in a state election in Lower Saxony on Sunday, which could deprive the German chancellor of a boost for her bid to win a third term later this year.
In exit polls released after voting ended at 6 p.m., Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) remained the biggest party in the state with about 36% while their Free Democrat (FDP) allies beat all expectations with 10%.
But the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens were also seen getting about 46%. A victory in Lower Saxony would boost their chances of unseating Merkel in September's federal elections despite a poor start by the SPD challenger Peer Steinbrueck.
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