Thousands of demonstrators protest in opposition to the far-right AfD throughout its congress in Essen | International | EUROtoday

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“I have never seen so many police everywhere,” says Mohammed, a waiter on a terrace on the Kettwiger buying avenue within the middle of Essen. The metropolis of virtually 600,000 inhabitants is totally armored, with streets blocked, metro traces closed and a huge police drive of 4,000 officers in riot gear, helicopters and drones. The far-right occasion Alternative for Germany (AfD) is holding its annual congress this weekend on this metropolis within the coronary heart of the previous Ruhr industrial area. The first day ended with a number of arrests and 9 law enforcement officials injured, two of them critically. 100,000 protesters have been anticipated to attend, amongst whom there might be left-wing extremists and violent activists, in line with the Police, though lastly this Saturday 50,000 confirmed up, in line with the organizers, and 20,000, in line with the authorities.

Mohammed, of Algerian origin, smiles knowingly when requested what he thinks of a lot deployment: “Instead of protecting the AfD, maybe they should protect us from them.” The authorities are centered on guaranteeing the safety of the political occasion, which is organized simply three weeks after the European elections that lifted the far-right occasion to second place, with 15.9% of the votes. In current months, it has been concerned in varied scandals which have provoked a public response, similar to a secret assembly with well-known neo-Nazis by which there was speak of deporting tens of millions of individuals of immigrant origin or some statements by its European candidate, Maximilian Krah, by which he whitewashed the Nazi SS.

Police block one of the streets leading to the Essen Congress Palace where the AfD is holding its annual congress.
Police block one of many streets resulting in the Essen congress palace the place the AfD holds its annual congress. Hesham Elsherif (Getty Images)

The begin of the congress has resulted in 9 law enforcement officials being injured and a number of other being arrested as they tried to dam the 600 delegates from getting into the Grugahalle, the congress corridor on the outskirts of the town the place the occasion is being held. Early within the morning a gaggle of individuals tried to interrupt by way of one of many police cordons and the officers responded with batons and pepper spray. Essen police reported late within the afternoon that two of the injured riot law enforcement officials have been in “serious” situation and had been hospitalised after being kicked within the head by a gaggle of unknown assailants as they have been escorting a politician. The perpetrators disappeared into the group and the police are analysing video photographs to establish them. Apart from the early morning disturbances, peaceable protests have been happening throughout the town since Friday afternoon.

The largest march, of a number of thousand individuals, happened this afternoon between the central station and the congress palace. The banner learn: “Against hate and agitation.” The protesters chanted slogans similar to “Everyone in Essen hates AfD”, “Nazis out” and “We are all anti-fascists”. “We cannot remain silent in the face of people who pit us against each other,” mentioned Lena Koch, a 19-year-old scholar. One of her mates carried a do-it-yourself banner that learn “Höcke is a Nazi,” in reference to the chief of the group in Thuringia, Björn Höcke, just lately convicted of utilizing a well known Nazi slogan in a speech.

Protest “camps” and sit-ins have been arrange all through the town, small live shows have been held, and in any respect hours a number of hundred individuals boo and whistle on the delegates from the police barrier. From contained in the enclosure, a number of hundred meters away, you can not hear them. The group of the AfD congress represents a serious problem for these accountable for safety, as a result of it additionally coincides with the Germany-Denmark match within the Euro Cup this Saturday, which was held a couple of kilometers from Essen, in Dortmund.

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The metropolis of Essen tried to forestall the AfD congress months in the past, when a secret assembly got here to gentle by which the “re-emigration” of tens of millions of immigrants was mentioned and which has been in comparison with the Wannsee Conference of 1942 by which The so-called Final Solution was determined. As the primary shareholder of the fairgrounds, the mayor (of the conservative CDU) tried to annul the rental contract. He argued that he meant to keep away from the fee of crimes such because the dissemination of Nazi slogans inside it. The occasion took the case to courtroom and received. The mayor, Thomas Kufen, acknowledged in an announcement that he didn’t agree with the judges' choice: “But ultimately we have to accept it,” he mentioned.

The 600 delegates debate over the weekend points such because the occasion's place on the European Union or Germany's assist for Ukraine. AfD is in opposition to the coverage of sanctions in opposition to Russia and fully rejects the cargo of weapons to kyiv. This final difficulty is among the “red lines” that, in line with a senior occasion official, forestall negotiating the AfD's entry into the European group of the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni.

The Identity and Democracy (ID) group, led by Marine Le Pen, expelled Alternative for Germany on the finish of May following Krah's controversial remarks. Since then, the far-right occasion has tried to ingratiate itself with the Frenchwoman once more, with out success to date. In parallel, AfD is making an attempt to type its personal group, which might be the third right-wing populist group within the European Parliament. AfD, co-president of the occasion, mentioned on Saturday that negotiations with different events – 23 MEPs from seven international locations are wanted – are going properly.

The congress additionally discusses organisational points, such because the renewal of the occasion's management. It was assumed that the present co-leaders, Tino Chrupalla and Alice Weidel, can be re-elected, and they also have been. 82.7% of delegates voted for Chrupalla, whereas Weidel obtained 79.9% approval. The creation of the submit of basic secretary from 2025 and the elimination of co-leadership to depart solely a feminine president – it’s speculated that Weidel is one of the best positioned – on the high are additionally mentioned. On Saturday, the occasion's new federal board was introduced, with just one lady (Weidel) amongst its 14 members.

Officially, the results of the European elections was a powerful success, however there are criticisms amongst senior occasion members of the administration of the marketing campaign and the selection of candidates. “The polls gave us 23%; the leadership has to ask itself why we ended up with a disappointing 16%,” says an individual with accountability within the occasion. The criticism is concentrated on Maximilian Krah, who the occasion needed to disguise within the closing phases of the marketing campaign and was finally dismissed after the vote. “We already knew what kind of person he is; why did we let him lead the European campaign?” asks the identical supply.

In their speeches, the AfD co-leaders requested Olaf Scholz's coalition authorities for brand new elections and insisted on the anti-immigration messages they carried out within the weeks earlier than the vote. Weidel referred to as for a 180-degree flip in immigration coverage. “We need to immediately deport 300,000 people who have to leave the country,” he mentioned, referring to candidates who’ve been denied asylum however nonetheless reside in Germany. The AfD co-president additionally assured that “Germany needs border fences” and that naturalizations must be stopped instantly.

The occasion is being monitored by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s home secret service, as a suspected right-wing extremist organisation. Weidel referred to as the workplace “an enemy of the Constitution” and mentioned it “should be abolished in its current form”, prompting enthusiastic applause from the delegates. “We will let ourselves be intimidated,” he mentioned: “We are here and we will stay here.”

Polls predict that the AfD would be the most voted occasion within the elections held in Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg in September, which can in all probability complicate the formation of a authorities, since the remainder of the events refuse to type a coalition with the ultras.

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