Germany’s far right elects leader duo amid pro-refugee protests

4 December, 2017 12:00 AM printer

HANOVER:  The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) elected a new leadership duo from its nationalist wing Saturday after the party’s triumphant turnout in September’s general election, as thousands staged street protests against the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam political force, reports AFP.

The AfD captured nearly 13 percent of the vote and almost 100 seats in parliament—a watershed moment in German post-war politics that left Chancellor Angela Merkel the winner but required her to seek out a still-elusive coalition.

However a row between radical nationalists and more moderate forces has festered in the AfD’s top ranks, with co-leader Frauke Petry abruptly quitting just days after the election to form her own breakaway party.

Around 600 delegates gathered at the two-day congress in the northern city of Hanover to elect her replacement, setting up a dramatic showdown between the warring factions. Joerg Meuthen, who belongs to the hard-right nativist wing, was re-elected as co-leader with an overwhelming 72 percent of the vote.

But when the relatively moderate Berlin AfD chief Georg Pazderski failed in two ballots to win Petry’s vacant seat, the party’s powerful parliamentary group chief Alexander Gauland was recruited to stand.

“I wasn’t seeking this,” said Gauland, who won 68 percent of the vote. “But fate wanted it another way and so I allowed my friends to convince me to step in.”

The choice of leaders confirmed the steady rightward march of the party, which was founded in 2013 as a populist anti-euro outfit.

Before the vote, Meuthen said he was working out of “passion for Germany” and to confront “the threat of us losing our country—maybe not immediately but little by little”. Outside, hundreds of demonstrators staged sit-ins to block roadways to the venue, delaying the start of the congress by nearly an hour.

After reporting minor scuffles with protesters, police deployed water cannon in frigid weather to remove some of the blockades. Several officers were injured in scuffles, one on the hand by a flying bottle, and a demonstrator who had chained himself to a barricade suffered a broken leg and was taken to hospital, police said.

Later Saturday more than 6,000 pro-refugee demonstrators marched through the city centre supporting Merkel’s liberal border policy, which has allowed in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015.