BERLIN (AP) — A prominent lawmaker with Chancellor Angela Merkel's party is drawing sharp criticism for saying that children who speak little German shouldn't immediately be allowed to enter elementary school.

Carsten Linnemann, a deputy leader of the center-right Union bloc's parliamentary group, told the daily Rheinische Post that "a child who barely speaks and understands German has no place yet in an elementary school." He argued that there should be "mandatory pre-schooling" for such children, or they should be sent to school later.

That drew criticism from politicians with left-wing and center-left parties — and also from some in Linnemann's own party, though there was support from conservatives. Karin Prien, a state education minister with Merkel's party, told Tuesday's Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily that the proposal was "populist nonsense."

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