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BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government distanced itself on Monday from a much-ridiculed proposal by Bavarian conservatives that immigrant families should be obliged to speak German at home if they wanted to remain in the country.
The proposal by the Christian Social Union (CSU), sister party of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), prompted outrage after it emerged at the weekend, with newspapers calling it discriminatory and cartoonists poking fun at the idea.
"This is not part of the coalition agreement and is not government policy," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert told a news conference on Monday, when asked about the CSU proposal.
However, he added that the government considered the ability to speak the German language a key for the integration of immigrants and their success in school and at work.
The CSU appeared to have watered down its initial proposal, according to media reports which cited a new draft policy paper proposing that immigrants "should be motivated to speak German in their daily lives".
In the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a front- page column joked that German is foreign to many Bavarians, who speak a heavily-accented version of the language.
The proposal is a response to a sharp rise in immigration to Germany, Europe's largest economy, driven by arrivals from eastern European Union member states and asylum seekers fleeing the war in Syria.
Some in the CSU are worried this will lead traditional supporters of the party to flee to the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a new eurosceptic party which preaches a tough line on immigration.
Reporting by Thorsten Severin and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Stephen Brown and Gareth Jones