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Around 600 delegates from the far-right German AfD gathered on Saturday for a congress, before which the authorities had warned that it could become a coronavirus hotspot as the party increasingly joins militants who oppose anti-Covid restrictions protest.
Alternative für Deutschland Co-Chairman Tino Chrupalla opened the event with an attack on the « state of emergency » policy introduced by the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel to deal with the health crisis.
« Lives have been broken, there is a wave of bankruptcies. . . Many people have lost their jobs, « he told the congress, which took place in a huge hall in a former nuclear power plant in the western city of Kalkar.
In order to get approval for the big gathering at a time when Germans are being urged to limit their contacts to just two households at a time, the AfD had to adhere to strict rules, including mandatory wearing of masks and social distancing.
In front of the venue – today a hotel and leisure complex – around 500 people demonstrated against the holding of the conference after a call by the coalition « Stand up to Racism ».
Kalkar’s mayor Britta Schulz had said it was « irresponsible » to hold such a large event and warned that it could become « a (virus) hotspot », but admitted that the meeting could not be banned.
In contrast, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union has postponed its Congress twice to elect a new leader because of the risk of coronavirus infection.
The AfD spokesman for health policy, Detlev Spangenberg, shook off possible risks and claimed: « The coronavirus is comparable to influenza in terms of the course of the disease and lethality. So the serious measures (which have been taken to combat them) are not proportionate. «
Germany has registered more than a million coronavirus infections and according to official figures there are almost 16. 000 people died.
The AfD has been the subject of repeated controversy since it began as a eurosceptic outfit seven years ago.
In 2015, the AfD turned into an anti-immigration party when public opinion turned sour against Merkel’s decision to keep Germany’s borders open to hundreds of thousands of people who fled the war in Iraq and Syria.
It was rewarded for its anti-Islamic positioning in the 2017 elections when voters first sent it to the Bundestag to become the largest opposition group in parliament.
A year before the national elections, the party is once again positioning itself alongside the militants who rail against the government – this time over curbs imposed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Party leader Alexander Gauland recently accused the government of using « war propaganda » to defend its « corona dictatorship ». .
During the last round of protests in Berlin, when violence reached a level that the capital’s police chief had not seen in decades, an AfD politician was accused of using a fake medical certificate to claim he could not wearing the required nose and mouth covering.
In another incident, Gauland was recently forced to apologize after two AfD lawmakers invited two right-wing extremist YouTubers to parliament who subsequently harassed politicians in the building.
Nevertheless, the AfD’s rating was around 10 percent, compared with highs of 15 to 16 percent at the height of the migrant crisis.
Some voters are also switched off by the connection with neo-Nazi skinheads, since the most radical faction of the AfD « Fluegel » is now the subject of official surveillance by the German secret service.
Instead, approval ratings for Merkel, who is slated to leave politics next year, have risen to a new level as the vast majority of the population expressed their satisfaction with how they dealt with the pandemic.
Alternative for Germany, right-wing extremist politics in Germany, Angela Merkel, coronavirus, protest, Jörg Meuthen
World news – AU – Germany’s right-wing extremist AfD holds congress despite virus restrictions – RFI
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