Contender to lead Merkel's party takes heat from rivals

FILE - In this Nov. 21, 2018 file photo Friedrich Merz, former CDU faction leader, left, Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn, center, and Annegret Kr

FILE - In this Nov. 21, 2018 file photo Friedrich Merz, former CDU faction leader, left, Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn, center, and Annegret Kr

BERLIN (AP) — A leading contender for the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right party is taking heat from rivals for saying the party responded to the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany "with a shrug of the shoulders."

Friedrich Merz has emerged after a decade away from front-line politics to seek the leadership of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. He is competing with CDU general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Health Minister Jens Spahn.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a weekend interview that Merz's comments were "a slap in the face for all those in the CDU" who have stood up against Alternative for Germany, which has capitalized on discontent with migration.

Spahn told Tuesday's edition of the Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung daily that "thousands of CDU election campaigners and members have stood against the rise" of the party.