World News

Far-Right Protest Over Migrants Turns Violent in German City

Posted August 28, 2018 5:14 p.m. EDT
Updated August 28, 2018 5:19 p.m. EDT

BERLIN — Protesters flashing Nazi salutes and shouting “Foreigners out” clashed Monday night with counterdemonstrators chanting “Refugees welcome,” in a second night of violence in the east German city of Chemnitz that left several people injured and a country dismayed over images of rioting.

The police in Saxony said Tuesday that several people had been treated for injuries sustained in the clashes Monday night. Ten people are being investigated for giving the Hitler salute, they said.

The violence first broke out Sunday, after nationalists and far-right soccer fans called on supporters, including on social media, to take to the streets to “defend” their country from immigrants after the killing of a 35-year-old German man.

Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her condolences to the victim’s family and condemned the violence, telling reporters in Berlin Tuesday that she had seen videos of demonstrators “going after people, riotous assemblies and hate in the streets.”

“I can only stress that this has nothing to do with the rule of law in this country,” Merkel said. “There can be no place in our streets for such rioting.” She also welcomed the offer by her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, to support authorities in Saxony in ensuring the rule of the law in Chemnitz.

A 21-year-old Iraqi and a 22-year-old Syrian were arrested on Monday on suspicion of having stabbed the victim during an altercation with him and two other men, both of whom were injured, Christine Mücke, a prosecutor in Chemnitz, said Monday. The case was later taken over by a special prosecutor for handling extremism in the state of Saxony.

Chemnitz was celebrating its 875th anniversary over the weekend, but a street festival had to be shut down on Sunday. Police officers trying to ensure security at the festival were overwhelmed as hundreds of people joined the protests and counterprotests, and police scrambled to call in reinforcements.

Initially, only 50 to 80 officers were on duty Sunday, said Jana Ulbrich, a spokeswoman for the Chemnitz police. “After the call-out on Facebook for a gathering, we tried to get more forces,” she said.

Videos from Sunday night showed a white man dressed in black chasing a darker skinned young man down the street as someone shouted “You aren’t welcome here!” in the background.

After a tense lull in the violence most of Monday, the confrontations resumed in force late in the day. Videos from Monday night showed several thousand demonstrators brandishing German flags and shouting, “We are the people” and “Chemnitz is ours — foreigners out,” and neo-Nazis gathered in the city, raising their right arms in the Nazi salute.

On the opposite side of a wide boulevard from the anti-immigrant forces, a smaller group shouted “Nazis out.” In the middle of the thoroughfare, police appeared outnumbered and overwhelmed, struggling to keep the groups apart. As the night wore on, bottles and fireworks flew, and demonstrators broke through police cordons.

“The right to use force lies uniquely and solely with the state,” Hans Strobl, general prosecutor for the state of Saxony, said Monday. “We will take consequent action against all of those who do not accept this.”

Saxony has long struggled with far-right and nativist extremism. Part of the former East Germany, it borders the Czech Republic to the south and Poland to the east.

In 1991, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a group of 500 neo-Nazis attacked buildings housing refugees in Hoyerswerda, northeast of Chemnitz. Since then, there have been far-right attacks against minority groups in Leipzig, and Freital, also in Saxony. The state capital, Dresden, is the birthplace of the anti-Muslim, nationalist movement Pegida, a German acronym for a title that translates roughly as Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West.

The state is also home to a strong faction of the Alternative for Germany party, known as AfD. Recent polls show the party firmly in place as the second-strongest force in the state, closing in on Merkel’s conservatives.