The CDU under new party chief Armin Laschet wins between 35 and 36 percent of the vote, exit polls show, with the anti-immigration AfD between 22.5 and 23.5 percent.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier presented the Order of Merit to Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin, whose families were migrants of Turkish origin, at a ceremony held at the Bellevue Palace, which was also attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
SDP leader Martin Schulz says his party has not yet agreed to negotiate a new coalition with Merkel, as reported in Germany's "Bild" newspaper.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's party seeks decisive victory in North Rhine-Westphalia, a bellwether state, against centre-left Social Democratic Party, four months before the national elections.
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