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German regional conservatives say could talk to left and right

BERLIN (Reuters) - Conservatives in Germany's Brandenburg state say they are willing to talk to the far left and right after next year's election in a break with the past that shows broader political fragmentation.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) have always refused to deal with the Left party, heir to East Germany's Communist party, or the nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD), regarding both as undemocratic.

"If we have the opportunity after the elections, we will hold talks with all parties," regional leader Ingo Senftleben said in an interview with daily Die Welt published on Thursday.

"We need a new culture of debate in the political landscape, and I want to establish it in Brandenburg," he added. Elections for the state parliament will be held late next year.

Though he said the talks with the AfD would not lead to a coalition, his remarks highlight how Germany's splintering political landscape is increasingly forcing leaders of the once dominant CDU and left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD) to contemplate awkward alliances.

Both parties suffered grievous vote share losses in September's national election, triggering an unprecedented six months of talks as different combinations of parties struggled to furnish Europe's largest economy with a government.

The AfD's joint leader Alexander Gauland was sceptical about Senftleben's statement, telling reporters he doubted the CDU's regional membership would stand for a coalition with the Left party.

"It's a tactical pronouncement," he said. "Whether there's anything behind it? I'm pretty sceptical."

Nationwide, the conservatives are sticking to their policy of rejecting talks with either party, with one senior lawmaker accusing the Left party, more market-critical and often pro-Russian, of "wanting to lead our country out of the western community of values".

But electoral arithmetic means such a tie-up may have to happen sooner or later.

After providing Brandenburg with all three state premiers since 1990, the SPD's vote share is collapsing there, leaving it barely larger than the AfD and Left parties, and giving the CDU a chance of becoming the largest party for the first time.

"There's a big difference between the Left in the regional and federal parliaments," Senftleben said. "In Brandenburg nobody would listen to us if we behaved as if we had all the good ideas and the others only bad ones."

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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