Moderate Armin Laschet has been elected as the head of Germany's conservative CDU party, succeeding Angela Merkel.

The victory for Mr Laschet, who is state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, puts him on course to run as the conservative party's candidate for chancellor in federal elections in September.

It also endorses the continuation of veteran Chancellor Angela Merkel's centrist politics.

The close Merkel ally, 59, was elected in a digital conference with 521 votes in a run-off against conservative Friedrich Merz, who got 466 votes.

The third candidate, foreign policy expert Norbert Roettgen, was earlier eliminated from the contest.

The veteran chancellor had urged the party to remain rooted in the centre ground on the eve of the vote.

She had signalled her preference for a moderate candidate who can unite her Christian Democrats.

The head of the CDU traditionally leads the party into a general election as its chancellor candidate.

It means Mr Laschet is in with a good chance of securing the top job.

At the helm of the CDU, he replaces Europe's predominant politician and a consistent winner with German voters since taking office in 2005, who has said she will not run for chancellor again.

"I want to do everything so that we can stick together through this year ... and then make sure that the next chancellor in the federal elections will be from the (CDU/CSU) union," Mr Laschet said in his victory speech.

Mr Laschet presents himself as the Merkel continuity candidate, and she said last year he had "the tools" to run for chancellor, the closest she has come to endorsing anyone.

By tradition, the CDU chairman is usually - though not always - the chancellor candidate for the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

The conservative bloc is on course to win September's election.

However, polls show Markus Soeder, the CSU leader, is the conservative most favoured by voters.

Some CDU members want dynamic Health Minister Jens Spahn to run for chancellor, though he had backed Mr Laschet for the party leadership.