Thousands of opponents and supporters of Germany’s immigration policy marched Saturday through the eastern city of Chemnitz after a wave of racist violence that followed a knife killing.
Some protesters paraded with large portraits of victims of attacks perpetrated, they claimed, by asylum-seekers, while others brandished banners reading “Chemnitz is neither grey nor brown” and “The heart rather than hate”.
There was a heavy police presence with reinforcements from all over Germany after they were heavily outnumbered by thousands of neo-Nazis, football hooligans and other extremists earlier this week.
Sunday and Monday evenings saw outbreaks of street violence, triggered by the arrest of one Iraqi protester and one Syrian, suspected of stabbing a 35-year-old carpenter to death.
Following the arrests, mobs launched random street attacks against people they took to be foreigners, including an Afghan, a Syrian and a Bulgarian man.
The government lent its support to the pro-migrant rally through Foreign Minister Heiko Maas who tweeted: “The Second World War started 79 years ago. Germany caused unimaginable suffering in Europe. If once again people are parading today in the streets making Nazi salutes, our past history forces us to resolutely defend democracy.”
In a separate protest later, an estimated 6,000 people marched at the call of various movements including the far-right anti-immigration alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement.
The violence and heated debate on immigration have brought back to the fore what has become the most challenging political issue for Merkel – whose government has increasingly tightened asylum laws amid growing conservative and far-right disquiet.