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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's population will shrink more slowly than expected over the next 45 years thanks to high levels of immigration, the country's statistics office said on Tuesday.
Immigrants and asylum seekers, many of them from Syria, have brought net migration to its highest level in more than two decades, and fuelled an increasingly heated national debate.
But the government and industry say immigrants are badly needed to counter the looming demographic squeeze caused by an aging population.
Germany's population, which hit 81.1 million in 2014, will shrink to between 67.6 and 73.1 million in 2060, the statistics office said. The level of immigration will determine which end of that scale the population reaches.
In its last prediction in 2009, the office had said the population of the Europe's largest economy would fall further to 65-70 million.
The statistics office said the population would probably increase from the 80.8 million level recorded in 2013 for the next five to seven years.
"It won't fall below the 2013 level until at least 2023," Roderich Egeler, president of the statistics office, said.
There will be a particularly strong fall in the proportion of working-age people, the statistics office said. The share of 20 to 64-year-olds in the total population will be around half by 2060 compared with almost two-thirds in 2013, it forecast.
The rising numbers of immigrants have alarmed many Germans.
The grassroots anti-Islam group PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) has been holding weekly demonstrations in the eastern city of Dresden for months and an arson attack on an asylum seekers' home in eastern Germany earlier this month also put German attitudes to immigration in the spotlight.
Reporting by Michelle Martin; Additional reporting by Holger Hansen; Editing by Stephen Brown and Andrew Heavens