Chemnitz police order far-right protesters to go home

Two competing demonstrations in Chemnitz were very much a clash of two Germanys. No police presence could obscure the fundamental conflict, indeed naked hatred, between these two sets of people.

Police in the eastern city of Chemnitz said Saturday they had ordered the organizers of an anti-migrant protest to call off their march.

Travel | 06.03.2017

The rally, which drew about 4,500 participants, surpassed its authorized time limit, leading to concerns about public safety, officials said. They added that some 3,500 counterdemonstrators had attempted to interfere with the march by blocking its planned route.

As night fell, protesters from both sides were refusing to leave the area, prompting police to bring in water cannon, the DPA news agency reported.

"Our units were at times forced to use direct force," police said on Twitter. "We repeat our call, continue to refrain from violence."

DW reporter Jefferson Chase, who was in Chemnitz, said angry right-wing demonstrators accused the police of failing to protect them.

Rival rallies

More than 1,200 police officers were deployed to Chemnitz ahead of Saturday's protests, which came one week after a 35-year-old German man was fatally stabbed in the city. Two men from Syria and Iraq have been arrested over the death.

The incident sparked attacks on foreigners and violent clashes that shocked the rest of the country.

Saturday's right-wing rally was led by the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the populist PEGIDA movement. Organizers called it a "mourning march," with many participants holding German flags and pictures of alleged victims of migrant violence.

Large crowds, including hundreds of rival demonstrators, also turned out for a rally opposing xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiment.

Read more: Violence in Chemnitz: A timeline of events 

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Chemnitz Kundgebung des Bündnisses Chemnitz Nazifrei unter dem Motto «Herz statt Hetze»

Counterdemonstrators call for 'Heart not hate'

A clash of two Germanys

The two competing demonstrations in Chemnitz were very much a clash of two Germanys — limited only by a massive police presence. Keen to avoid last week's scenes of protesters seeming to run amok in the streets, authorities were careful to sort right-wing from counterdemonstrators right at Chemnitz's main train station, shunting them in different directions.

The atmosphere at the pro-refugee "Herz statt Hetze" (Show a Heart Not Hatred) demonstration was carnivalesque, with the largely young crowd listening to rock bands and chanting anti-Nazi slogans in a number of languages. 

Read moreOpinion: To understand Saxony, look at its history

The mood in the opposite camp was much darker. AfD supporters refrained from displaying party symbols, and most heeded organizers' calls to stay silent as a sign of mourning for those killed.

But when the two sides came into proximity, the air immediately turned quite tense. Counterprotesters repeatedly bypassed cordon lines to provoke the right-wing marchers, causing some minor scuffles, injuries and damage. And the AfD and PEGIDA supporters made no secret of their displeasure when told disperse. 

Some made obscene gestures and bellowed "Our taxes pay your salaries." And a crowd of around 100 protesters who initially refused to disperse chanted "Wir sind das Volk," (We are the people) — the rallying cry of anti-Communist protesters before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The majority of those lining the streets of the march route sympathized with the right-wing demonstrators and complained that the counterprotesters had been given preferential treatment. Whatever the truth of those complaints, the police strategy did succeed in keeping the two sides apart despite the highly volatile situation. But no police presence could obscure the fundamental conflict, indeed naked hatred, between these two sets of people.

Read moreSaxony politicians face voters after far-right Chemnitz violence 

Society

Death sparks demonstrations

The demonstrations were sparked by a deadly brawl that broke out in the German city of Chemnitz in the early hours of Sunday (August 26). What started out as a war of words resulted in a 35-year-old man being stabbed to death. Hours later, spontaneous, anti-migrant protests took over the streets of Chemnitz.

Society

German-Cuban killed

A German-Cuban man was stabbed in an altercation involving 10 people, several of whom were of "various nationalities," police sources said. The victim, named only as Daniel H., was apparently well-known among various political groups in the area. Two men in their 30s were also stabbed and seriously injured, and a 22-year-old Iraqi and 23-year-old Syrian are in custody over the killing.

Society

Police reinforcements called

By Sunday afternoon, some 800 people had gathered to protest the man's death, including far-right groups. Authorities said the crowd was largely uncooperative and threw bottles at police officers. Police reinforcements had to be called in from nearby cities. The mobilizations were spontaneous and are thought to have surfaced following calls to demonstrate on social media.

Society

Misinformation

German authorities said that that far-right groups spread misinformation on the internet. Among the false claims was that the victim of the knife attack died protecting a woman.

Society

Protests and counterprotests

Thousands of far-right and counterdemonstrators faced off in a second day of protest Monday. Several people were injured as objects and fireworks were hurled. Video footage showed the far-right "Pro Chemnitz" movement holding a banner with a quote from early 20th century poet Anton Günther reading "German and free we aim to be."

Society

'No place for Nazis'

Counter-demonstrators denouncing right-wing extremism also took to the streets of Chemnitz. Among the protesters were Antifa, who clashed with right-wing demonstrators.

Rage over immigration 

Many on the right are angry with Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to welcome hundreds of thousands of mainly Middle Eastern asylum-seekers to Germany in 2015. The influx led to a backlash in some parts of the country that resulted in the AfD winning seats in parliament for the first time.  

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who himself favors a stricter immigration policy, acknowledged Saturday that people "are upset about the brutal killing" of a German citizen, but said that was "no excuse for violence."

"We need a strong state and we have to do everything politically to overcome the polarization and division of our society," the Funke Media Group quoted him as saying.

Read moreChemnitz, Saxony and Germany grapple with far right

nm/rc (AP, dpa, Reuters)