Right-wing protests fueled by anti-immigrant sentiment continue in Germany

PHOTO: Members of right-wing extremist groups gather for a demonstration on Sept. 1, 2018, in Chemnitz, Germany.PlaySarah Hucal/ABC News
WATCH Merkel wins 4th term as German far-right party makes gains

In the eastern German city of Chemnitz, the site of continued far-right protests and clashing counter-demonstrations, there has hardly been a moment's rest.

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Although the gatherings on Saturday were largely peaceful, the atmosphere was tense: a representation of two Germanys -- one embracing of multiculturalism and the other still incensed by migration policy under Chancellor Angela Merkel, especially her 2015 decision to welcome 1 million refugees.

In anticipation of the day’s events, under an overcast sky, the streets were closed. A large banner had just been hung on the city’s landmark, a large statue of the head of Karl Marx, a nod to the city’s East German past.

“Chemnitz is neither grey nor brown,” the banner read, a reference to the color of the Nazi party and a message of tolerance in a city now linked with anti-immigrant sentiment.

PHOTO: Protesters in an an anti-violence counter-demonstration hold up a sign Never again 1933. And then there was Chemnitz - a reference to Nazi-era Germany in Chemnitz, Germany, Sept. 1, 2018. Sarah Hucal/ABC News
Protesters in an an anti-violence counter-demonstration hold up a sign "Never again 1933. And then there was Chemnitz" - a reference to Nazi-era Germany in Chemnitz, Germany, Sept. 1, 2018.

Earlier in the week, the death of a 35-year-old German-Cuban, Daniel H., allegedly at the hands of Iraqi and Syrian-born men who are now in custody, was used as a rallying cry for far-right extremists.

Rumors swirled online around his death, and incited anger from many right-wing supporters. Authorities, however, were quick to debunk the myths.

“The mobilization was based on anti-foreigner comment, false information and conspiracy theories,” governor of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, told reporters earlier in the week.

PHOTO: Demonstrators hold up placards showing portraits of victims of refugees during a protest organised by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, on Sept. 1, 2018 in Chemnitz, Germany. John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators hold up placards showing portraits of victims of refugees during a protest organised by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, on Sept. 1, 2018 in Chemnitz, Germany.

The region of Saxony, where Chemnitz is located, is a stronghold for the anti-Islam far-right party, the Alternative for Deutschland, and has long struggled with neo-Nazi aggression.

Last Sunday, right-wing extremists and hooligans took the streets, harassing those who looked foreign and shouting xenophobic slurs. The next day, violence reached a pinnacle as 6,000 right-wing protestors mobilized in the streets, facing off against 1,500 counter-demonstrators and overpowering ill-staffed police forces.

Authorities have since opened at least 10 cases after extremists who were seen making Hitler salutes.

The salutes -- as well as swastikas and other insignias -- are illegal in a country that has tried shake its Nazi past. But the 2015 immigration policy has brought newly emboldened Nazi sympathizers out of the shadows.

PHOTO: A sign requesting tolerance is pasted on a statue of Karl Marx in Chemnitz, Germany, Sept. 1, 2018. Sarah Hucal/ABC News
A sign requesting tolerance is pasted on a statue of Karl Marx in Chemnitz, Germany, Sept. 1, 2018.

In preparation for Saturday’s fresh round of demonstrations, which attracted 9,500 people, according to initial estimates by the police, additional officers were brought in from several other regions.

Police forces had come under criticism for not responding with enough officers earlier in the week, even prompting some suspicions of collusion with right-wing protesters.


PHOTO: People take part in demonstrations following the killing of a German man in Chemnitz, Germany, Sept. 1, 2018. Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters
People take part in demonstrations following the killing of a German man in Chemnitz, Germany, Sept. 1, 2018.

By late afternoon, several thousand people of various ages had gathered in front of the Karl Marx statue for the protest of right-wing citizen’s movement Pro-Chemnitz.

Some held German flags and chanted, “We are the people” and “Merkel has to go.”

A moderator urged crowds to avoid violence. Yet the group, which had also held a protest on Thursday drawing 900 people, had called residents earlier in the week to mobilize and incite chaos.

An hour later, a second right-wing demonstration began, organized by far-right political party Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), the main opposition party in the German parliament alongside anti-Islam, xenophobic citizen’s organization PEGIDA.

Soon they were joined by the members of the Pro-Chemnitz march and the crowd swelled.

PHOTO: Numerous editions of the Federal Constitutional Law (Grundgesetz) are placed in the street by supporters of the alliance Chemnitz Nazifrei (Chemnitz without Nazis) near the location of a counter-march in Chemnitz, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2018. Monika Skolimowska/AFP/Getty Images
Numerous editions of the Federal Constitutional Law (Grundgesetz) are placed in the street by supporters of the alliance "Chemnitz Nazifrei" (Chemnitz without Nazis) near the location of a counter-march in Chemnitz, Germany, on Sept. 1, 2018.

Across town, a peaceful counter-demonstration titled “Heart instead of right-wing heat” drew a large crowd of several thousand.

Shortly before nightfall, several altercations between “black block” and right-wing extremists broke out, but were swiftly quelled by riot police. Later in the evening, small scuffles continued to break out between right-wing protestors and police.

PHOTO: Demonstrators walk during a protest organised by the right-wing populist Pro Chemnitz movement, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the anti-Islam Pegida movement, on Sept. 1, 2018 in Chemnitz, Germany. John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators walk during a protest organised by the right-wing populist "Pro Chemnitz" movement, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the anti-Islam Pegida movement, on Sept. 1, 2018 in Chemnitz, Germany.

Last week's violence further challenged the notion of modern-day Germany as a country welcoming of foreigners.

Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, condemned the week’s violence.

“What was seen yesterday in parts of Chemnitz and what was recorded on video has no place in our country,” he said.

“People ganging up, chasing people who look different from them or who come from elsewhere ... is something we won’t tolerate,” he continued.

On Monday, Saxony police reported receiving complaints from a 15-year-old German girl with a 17-year-old Afghan teenage boy who said they were attacked, an 18-year-old Syrian who claimed to have been beaten and a Bulgarian man claimed to have been threatened.

Nowhere else in Germany is the AfD as popular as it is in Saxony. A quarter of the region's voters chose the party in last September’s federal elections.