Left, right demos sweep Germany’s Berlin, AfD supporters outnumbered
Story Code : 727793
Around 2,000 police forces were called from across Germany on Sunday to keep peace as demonstrators for and against the far-right faced off in mass rival rallies in Berlin on Sunday.
Police said that it was forced to use pepper spray to stop “demonstrators from trying to break down barriers” that had been meant to keep groups apart and prevent clashes at Berlin's Leipziger square.
A bridge separating the supporters of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and leftist demonstrators were also closed to prevent AfD demonstrators from running into opponents.
AfD demonstrators, estimated around 5,000 people, chanted “We are the people” and "Merkel must go” while carrying blue balloons, the color of the AfD and waving Germany's black, red and gold flag. The counter-demonstrators chanted “Go away, Nazis” and played loud techno music.
The march for AfD was the first public show of strength by the nationalist party since it won some 13 percent of the votes in September general election and became the largest opposition party in the Bundestag, the German parliament.
The party, strengthened against the backdrop of Merkel’s liberal asylum policies, openly opposes the presence of ethnic groups like Muslims in Germany while it campaigns for ideologies that many Germans view as reminiscent of the Nazi era.
However, the party’s rise to the top echelon of the German politics has allowed many of its supporters to come forward and express themselves.
“Merkel caused such chaos,” said an AfD member during the Sunday demonstration, adding "Now we know that many Islamists were among the refugees and they have no respect for women. We need to be safe.”
AfD chief in Berlin Georg Pazderski, said, however, that many party members and sympathizers still feared being stigmatized for showing their AfD colors.
Top figures of the AfD, including Joerg Meuthen and Alexander Gauland, who are known for their harsh criticism of Merkel’s policies, were planned to address the demonstrators.
The opposite camp of demonstrators, mainly comprised of an alliance of political parties, unions, student bodies, migrant advocates and civil society organizations, also had a significant presence in the streets of Berlin on Sunday.
They chanted “the whole of Berlin is against the AfD” while carrying banners with messages like “No to racism” and “Go away, Nazis”.
Some 100 clubs from Berlin's legendary techno scene staged the loudest response to the far-right march. The organizers used boats and floats on the river Spree and a convoy of DJ-carrying trucks to “bass away” the AfD.
Most of the counter-demonstrations were expected to be peaceful. But a far-left extremist group, called Antifa movement, called on members in statements on its website that they should spark “chaos” and do whatever they could “to sabotage the AfD rally using all necessary means”.
The refugee issue has been a main theme of the German politics for the past three years. The crisis, which was triggered by a conflict in Syria, has cost Merkel very dearly as she was forced to go through long negotiations to form a coalition government after her conservatives scored poor results in last year election.
The German chancellor has defended her liberal policies in dealing with refugees, saying repeatedly that it was a right decision to allow more than a million refugees into Germany at the height of the crisis in 2015.