German Chancellor Angela Merkel, after celebrating her fourth election win, wakes up Monday to the double headache of an emboldened hard-right opposition party and thorny coalition talks ahead.
If the campaign was widely decried as boring, its result was a bombshell -- a populist surge weakened both Merkel's conservatives and the centre-left Social Democrats, handing both their worst results in decades.
After 12 years in power and running on a promise of stability and continuity, Merkel's CDU/CSU bloc scored 32.9 percent, against 20.8 percent for the Social Democrats under challenger Martin Schulz.
The election spelt a breakthrough for the anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD), which with 13 percent became the third strongest party and vowed to "go after" Merkel over her migrant and refugee policy.
The entry of dozens of hard-right nationalist MPs to the glass-domed Bundestag chamber breaks a taboo in post-World War II Germany and was labelled as a "political earthquake" by top-selling Bild daily.
"We will take our country back," vowed the AfD's jubilant Alexander Gauland, who has recently urged Germans to be proud of their war veterans and said a politician with Turkish roots should be "disposed of in Anatolia".
While joyful supporters of the AfD -- a party with links to the far-right French National Front and Britain's UKIP -- sang the German anthem late Sunday, hundreds of protesters outside shouted "Nazis out!"
- 'Reactionary movement' -
All other political parties have ruled out working with the AfD, whose leaders call Merkel a "traitor" for allowing in more than one million asylum seekers since the height of the refugee influx in 2015.
World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder called the four-year-old protest party "a disgraceful reactionary movement which recalls the worst of Germany's past and should be outlawed".
While Germany still digests the rise of the right-wingers, Merkel's inner circle will prepare Monday for what could be lengthy coalition talks ahead with a motley crew of smaller parties.
Party leaders will meet at 0700 GMT at Berlin headquarters to draw their conclusions from the election that some have dubbed a referendum on the refugee crisis, a contentious issue especially for her Bavarian CSU allies.-AFP