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Frontrunner to succeed Merkel sorry for laughing scene in visit to fatal floods

Berlin: The frontrunner to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany’s September election has apologised for a scene in which he was seen laughing in the background as the country’s president delivered a statement on the devastating floods in western Germany.

Armin Laschet, the candidate of Merkel’s centre-right Union bloc to be Germany’s next leader, is also the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state — one of two badly hit by last week’s floods. On Saturday (German time), he visited the town of Erfstadt, which was the scene of a dramatic rescue effort after the ground gave way, with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s state premier and Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Armin Laschet visits flood-hit areas by the Erft River.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s state premier and Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Armin Laschet visits flood-hit areas by the Erft River.Credit:Getty

While Steinmeier gave a statement to reporters after the visit, Laschet and a group of others stood in the background. Photos showed him turning to someone else and laughing.

Lars Klingbeil, the general secretary of the center-left Social Democrats, told Sunday’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper that Laschet’s behaviour was “lacking in decency and appalling”.

“They say that people’s character shows in times of crisis,” he added.

Laschet later took to Twitter to explain himself and thank Steinmeier for his visit.

“The fate of those affected, which we heard about in many conversations, is important to us,” he wrote. “So I regret all the more the impression that arose from a conversational situation. That was inappropriate and I am sorry.”

The Union bloc currently leads polls ahead of the environmentalist Greens, with the Social Democrats in third place. The election is on September 26.

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