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Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (L), State Minister-President and top candidate of the Christian Democratic Union Party (CDU) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend an election rally in St. Wendel near Saarbruecken, Germany March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives strengthened their position as the largest party in an election in the small state of Saarland on Sunday, in a boost to her quest to win a fourth term in Germany's Sept. 24 national election, exit polls showed.

Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) fetched 41 percent of the vote in the Saarland, up from 35.2 percent in the last election there in 2012, an exit poll for broadcaster ARD showed. The Social Democrats (SPD) won 29.5 percent, down from 30.6 percent. [L5N1H308W]

Like federal Germany, Saarland is currently governed by a 'grand coalition' of the CDU and the SPD.

The result leaves the CDU short of sufficient support to rule alone in the state. The SPD and the far-left Linke, which won 13 percent, also lack enough votes to form a left-leaning coalition in the state assembly.

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) won 6 percent. The environmentalist Greens failed to reach the 5 percent threshold to enter the state assembly.

(Reporting by Paul Carrel; Editing by Maria Sheahan)

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