German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stolen a key state from her rival Social Democrat party (SPD) in a regional election, performing better than expected, according to exit polls.
The state election in North Rhine-Westphalia was the final test of the strategy of Merkel's CDU party ahead of a national election in September. She is seeking a mandate to continue her 11-year reign as Chancellor.
The region, which is home to nearly a quarter of Germans, has previously been a stronghold for the SPD, which is now under the leadership of former European parliament president Martin Schulz.
However, the CDU looks set to unseat the SPD, having taken two other states from the party earlier this month.