Home News German City Becomes Rallying Point for Anti-Immigration Protests

German City Becomes Rallying Point for Anti-Immigration Protests

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Demonstrators light flares on Aug. 27 in Chemnitz, eastern Germany, following the fatal stabbing of a 35-year-old German national.


odd andersen/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

BERLIN—The German city of Chemnitz saw renewed anti-immigration protests Thursday, five days after the violent death of a resident turned the city into a rallying point for far-right opponents of the government’s refugee policy.

The demonstrations, which turned violent at times, have shocked the country and are the latest manifestation of the divisions caused by the influx of close to two million asylum seekers since 2015.

Police are currently questioning two men—one from Syria and one from Iraq—over the fatal stabbing early Sunday morning of a local man identified by police only as Daniel H.

Within hours of the killing, protesters had taken to the streets shouting anti-immigration slogans. A video later posted on social media showed a group of white men chasing two foreign-looking youths as one man yelled “You aren’t welcome here.”

On Monday, a demonstration registered by a local anti-immigration group drew around 6,000 protesters—some performing the banned Nazi salute—around the city’s memorial to Karl Marx. About 20 people were wounded in clashes between rival groups of demonstrators and the police, according to regional authorities in Saxony, the eastern state where Chemnitz is located.

The state’s interior ministry had requested police reinforcements ahead of another protest planned during a visit to the city by Michael Kretschmer, the premier of Saxony, on Thursday. Björn Höcke, a right-wing leader of the Alternative for Germany, or AfD party, has urged supporters to conduct a “march of mourning” in Chemnitz on Saturday. Mr. Höcke has previously called for a reassessment of Adolf Hitler’s rule.

Thursday’s protest drew an estimated 900 participants according to the Saxony police, making it much smaller than Monday’s. It ended after two hours in the early evening without any incident.

The refugee crisis that peaked in the summer of 2015 rocked the sedate world of German politics and boosted support for the AfD. The party’s ratings went from low single digits to a 12.6% score at last year’s general election, making it the largest opposition party in parliament. Some of AfD’s best electoral results were in Saxony, where it came second only to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Earlier this summer, a dispute over whether to tighten immigration rules divided Ms. Merkel’s party and came close to toppling her government. The two sides eventually reached a compromise after Ms. Merkel pledged to negotiate agreements with other European countries allowing Berlin to turn back asylum seekers who have open applications elsewhere.

Ms. Merkel condemned the incidents in Chemnitz this week, saying that “people hounding others” and “mobs spreading hatred on the streets,” as seen on video footage from the city, was incompatible with the rule of law.

“We can’t allow such incidents to happen anywhere on our streets,” she said Tuesday.

Some have called for a stronger response to the emboldened far right. Deirdre Berger, director of the American Jewish Congress’s Ramer Institute for German-Jewish relations in Berlin, criticized the response of the Saxon police.

“When a vandalizing mob goes on a manhunt over several days and engages in self justice, when people chant neo-Nazi slogans and show the Nazi salute without police doing anything, it is deeply alarming,” she wrote in a letter to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer this week.

Police in Saxony and Chemnitz said Wednesday they had opened an investigation into possible offenses at the protests—including the display of Nazi symbols—and set up a telephone line for witnesses to the events.

Others said the government’s refugee policy was to blame for the recent disturbances.

“When the state can no longer protect its citizens, people take to the streets and protect themselves,” Martin Frohnmaier, an AfD lawmaker, wrote on Twitter after the fatal stabbing Sunday. “It is our duty today as citizens to stop this deadly immigration of knives.”

Write to Bertrand Benoit at bertrand.benoit@wsj.com

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