German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she will step down from leading the Christian Democratic Union and won't seek re-election, rattling the political scene in Germany and setting the stage for her to be eventually replaced in her country's highest office.

"The time has come to open a new chapter," Merkel said.

Merkel, 64, announced the move on Monday, speaking in Berlin after meetings about her party's struggles in Germany's recent election.

Her current term as chancellor runs into 2021 — and Merkel said she is "prepared" to stay in the chancellor post through her current term.

Political analysts in Germany have wondered whether Merkel might not serve out a full term if she's not leading her own party — a pairing that Merkel herself has said is crucial to being an effective chancellor.

Merkel said she won't seek to return as her party's leader when the CDU meets in December — setting off speculation over who in her party might try to replace her.

Merkel, her party and its allies in a governing coalition have been under attack by far-right politicians, who have been able to translate tensions over Germany receiving refugees from Syria, Iraq and other countries into election wins and a growing base of support.

The surprise announcement that Merkel would leave her party's leadership but remain in the chancellorship did not satisfy her critics. According to Deutsche Welle, as news of Merkel's move spread, Christian Lindner, who leads the center-right Free Democrats (FDP), said, "She's quitting the wrong office."

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