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18 injured as German anti-migrant demonstration met by counter-protest

Demonstrators brandish German flags at a rally organised by the right-wing populist "Pro Chemnitz" movement, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the anti-Islam Pegida movement in Chemnitz, scene of attacks by a racist mob in recent days
John MACDOUGALL (AFP/File)

Tensions brewing beneath the surface once again erupted onto the streets of Chemnitz, as the east German city still reels from one week of violent far-right protests and counter-protests.

Some 5,000 right-wing supporters showed up Saturday for what was meant as a “funeral march” for victims of alleged “migrant violence” the latest of whom, according to the demonstrators, was Daniel Hillig -- the 35-year-old man who's killing outside a street festival last Saturday sparked massive anti-migrant protests.

Saturday's event was organized by the local right-wing movement "Pro-Chemnitz", the populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD), and the anti-migrant PEGIDA movement.

PEGIDA founder Lutz Bachmann and controversial AfD politician Björn Höcke were among attendees. But instead of party banners, participants were carrying German flags photos of victims, and – as instructed by organizers – largely stayed silent as a sign of mourning.

But the somber atmosphere quickly heated up after just a few hundred meters, as the marchers encountered more than 4,000 counter-demonstrators who attempted to block the planned march route.

Police officers on the scene struggled to contain the clashes, which left eighteen injured.

German media reported that many among the marchers clearly belonged to the far-right, indentified by t-shirts bearing the slogans “Sons of Odin” and “German Reich,” or by Wehrmacht-styled and SS-rune tattoos.

Sebastian Willnow (dpa/AFP/File)

At some distance from the demonstrations, a 20-year-old Afghan was attacked and injured by four masked people. Authorities are now investigating if the attackers were participants of the rally. Police also recorded at least 25 offenses, such as property damage and personal injury.

The counter-demonstration was organized by a wide alliance of anti-Nazi groups and political parties, including the local chapter of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU party. “Heart instead of Hate,” was their motto.

As night fell and both camps exceeded the time limit for the demonstrations, police ordered participants to go home, also resorting to the use of force and anti-riot gear including a water cannon to disperse protesters.

Some 1,800 police officers were present at the scene, following intense criticism of the police’s failure to curb the riots earlier this week.

A previous demonstration by the right-wing groups on Thursday, outside a town hall style meeting between Chemnitz residents and the Prime Minister of the state of Saxony Michael Kretschmer, ended uneventfully. The streets of Chemnitz were expected to be filled with demonstrators again on Monday, for a free open air concert titled “We Are More.”

Odd ANDERSEN (AFP/File)

Speaking to the German daily Bild on Sunday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged citizens to do more to fight against right-wing violence. “We have to get up off the sofa and open our mouths,” he stressed.

“My generation has been given freedom, the rule of law and democracy. We did not have to fight for it, we sometimes take it for granted, and unfortunately, a comfort has spread within our society that we have to overcome,” he added.

He also commented on the fact that multiple participants of the far-right rallies in Chemnitz were seen performing the illegal Nazi salute, calling it “a disgrace to our country.”

“We must oppose the right-wing extremists. We can't duck away. We must face the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites,” continued Maas. “Only then will Germany's reputation not be permanently stained by xenophobic crimes.”

Saxony state, where Chemnitz is the third largest city, has become a hotspot for racist hate crimes and anger at the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers since 2015.

A survey published Sunday also showed that two-thirds of Germans believe right-wing extremism to be a bigger problem in the former East than in the Western states.

Polina Garaev is i24NEWS's correspondent in Germany.

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