Merkel's Conservatives Win Key State Election
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives defeated their center-left rivals in a key state election Sunday in the country's most populous region.
Exit polls showed Merkel's Christian Democratic Union with a strong surge of support in North Rhine-Westphalia, the home state and traditional stronghold of her chief rival, Social Democrat Martin Schulz, who is challenging the German leader in the national election in late September.
Schulz conceded Sunday's loss, saying, "This is a difficult day for the Social Democrats, a difficult day for me personally as well. I come from the state in which we took a really stinging defeat today." He urged his party to focus on the September 24 vote.
The exit polls showed the Christian Democrats winning 34.5 percent of the vote in North Rhine-Westphalia, home to 17.9 million people, nearly a quarter of the German population, with the Social Democrats at 30.5 percent. Other parties trailed far behind the two leaders.
More Syrian Rebels Abandon Territory near Damascus
At least 1,500 Syrian rebels and their families abandoned another long-held district just outside of Damascus on Sunday, as the army of President Bashar al-Assad and its allies push to seize full control of the capital and surrounding areas for the first time in nearly five years.
State media and witnesses said the evacuation began at dawn, less than a day after government forces captured the Qaboun district, and just days after hundreds of other beleaguered rebel fighters and their families departed two other nearby districts.
A government deal facilitating the Qaboun evacuation was announced late Saturday. It replicates earlier agreements under which rebels were granted safe passage to rebel-held territory near the Turkish border in exchange for an end to weeks of shelling and airstrikes by Syrian and allied Russian warplanes.
Government forces have pressed for several months to recapture rebel districts north and east of Damascus, and analysts say they succeeded only after discovering and destroying underground tunnels that connected the three neighborhoods.
As civil war raged near the capital, Kurdish-led Syrian forces far to the north pressed a separate offensive against Islamic State extremists just outside the de facto IS capital, Raqqa.