HANOVER: Members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) gathered on Saturday to vote on new leadership after the party’s triumphant turnout in September’s general election, as thousands staged street protests against the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam party.
The AfD captured nearly 13 per cent of the vote and almost 100 seats in parliament — a watershed moment in postwar German politics that left Chancellor Angela Merkel the winner but required her to seek out a still-elusive coalition.
But a festering row between radical nationalists and more moderate forces has roiled the AfD’s top ranks, with co-leader Frauke Petry abruptly quitting just days after the election to form her own breakaway party. About 600 delegates at the two-day congress in the northern city of Hanover were to vote on a replacement for her as well as a new board, determining the ideological direction of the party.
Outside, hundreds of demonstrators staged sit-ins to block roadways to the venue, delaying the start of the congress by nearly an hour.
After reporting minor scuffles with protesters, police deployed water cannon in frigid weather to remove some of the blockades.
Several officers were injured in scuffles, one on the hand by a flying bottle, and a demonstrator who had chained himself to a barricade suffered a broken leg and was taken to hospital, police said.
Later in the day, more than 5,000 pro-refugee demonstrators marched through the city centre supporting Merkel’s liberal border policy, which has allowed in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015. Another anti-AfD rally by trade unionists was expected to draw around 3,000 people.
AfD leader Joerg Meuthen, who has allied himself with its hard-right nativist wing, has said he will stand for another two-year term.
He told cheering delegates that the AfD was Germany’s “only party for patriotic policies” and accused Merkel of “fundamental political failure” during her 12 years in office. — AFP