SHARE
COPY LINK

POLITICS

Small town mayor stabbed at kebab shop over pro-refugee stance

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday condemned a near fatal knife attack against a town mayor, apparently motivated by the local leader's pro-refugee stance and which left him with a six-inch neck wound.

Small town mayor stabbed at kebab shop over pro-refugee stance
Andreas Hollstein. Photo: DPA

Andreas Hollstein, 54, mayor of the western town of Altena, was stabbed Monday evening at a kebab shop by a man who had loudly criticised his liberal refugee policy.

Hollstein said that without two shop employees who rushed to help him, he would “probably not be here today”.

With a large bandage on his neck and a wavering voice, Hollstein told reporters that the 56-year-old male assailant had asked him if he was the mayor before pulling the knife and then said: “You let me die of thirst and take in 200 refugees in Altena.”

Merkel, who has faced a strong backlash over her welcoming stance toward refugees, was “horrified” by the attack on Hollstein and “very relieved that he was already able to return to his family,” her spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted. “Thanks also to those who helped him.”

Hollstein, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), said that he believed “a coarsening of the public debate about refugees” had led to the assault.

“I even received emails today approving of the attack — that says something about the state of our country,” he said, adding that he and his family had received repeated threats in recent years.

Hollstein said the attacker appeared to be under the influence of alcohol but was by no means incapacitated, noting it had taken three men to overpower him.

The assailant was arrested at the scene while Hollstein was taken to a local hospital and, after treatment, released hours later, police said in a statement, referring to an “apparent xenophobic motive”.

'Like a good mayor should'

The snack shop owner, Demir Abdullah, who came to Hollstein's aid along with his son, who was also injured in the attack, confirmed the assailant had specifically targeted Hollstein.

“He asked 'are you the mayor?'… then he reached for his knife and stabbed him in the neck,” Abdullah told German television.

The town of about 17,000 people was well known for taking in a larger share of asylum seekers than required amid the mass influx that has brought more than one million migrants and refugees to Germany since 2015.

Hollstein, whose town won a national award in May for its work with refugees, said Altena had welcomed about 450 people and said he had no plans to reverse his stance.

“I'm going to continue to work for refugees, for those who are already here and for those who are still arriving, for the weak and the strong in our society, like a good mayor should,” he said.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas tweeted that “we must never accept that people are attacked because they help others,” adding that there was no space “for hate and violence” in Germany.

The assault revived memories of a knife attack on Cologne's mayor Henriette Reker in October 2015 by a right-wing extremist who was angered at her welcoming stance toward refugees.

The brutal attack came at the height of the influx to Germany, where sentiment is still deeply divided on the country's humanitarian responsibilities and its ability to integrate newcomers.

While most mainstream parties back the principle of Germany taking in people fleeing warzones such as Syria, the backlash led the far-right Alternative for Germany party to win its first seats in parliament in September's general election.

Although Merkel won a fourth term in the poll, the AfD's presence has severely complicated her efforts to cobble together a ruling coalition.

The AfD scored nearly 12 percent of the vote in Altena's electoral district, just below the 13 percent it drew nationally.

POLITICS

How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

While far-right groups have been celebrating, other politicians in Germany see the results as worrying. Here's a look at the reaction.

How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

According to initial projections following Italy’s election on Sunday, the coalition led by Georgia Meloni and her radical right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party has won a majority of seats in the two chambers of the Italian parliament and will lead the next government. 

Meloni is a euro-sceptic who has previously spoken about having an “aversion” to Germany and referred to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as “socialist” while on the campaign trail.

However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s deputy spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters on Monday: “We of course have to wait for the official final result from this election but at this time what the chancellor would say is that Italy is a very Europe-friendly country with very Europe-friendly citizens and we assume that won’t change.” 

READ ALSO: What will a far-right government mean for Italy?

A Finance Ministry spokesperson added that Berlin expected the new Italian government to continue to respect the stability pact that sets the fiscal rules for the eurozone.

Despite these reassurances from the central government, German politicians in the EU parliament have expressed concern about the new direction for Italy.  

Rasmus Andresen, spokesman for the German Greens in the EU Parliament, said the “unprecedented Italian slide to the right” will have massive repercussions for Europe and for the European Union.

“Italy, as a founding member and the third strongest economy in the EU, is heading for an anti-democratic and anti-European government.”

Though Meloni no longer wants Italy to leave the eurozone, she has said that Rome must assert its interests more and has policies that look set to challenge Brussels on everything from public spending rules to mass migration.

The Greens’ co-leader in Brussels, Thomas Waitz, told Die Welt that the EU can only function if it sticks together, for example on cooperation in energy markets, decisions on Russian sanctions or dealing with the Covid crisis. “Meloni, on the other hand, would back national go-it-alones. It can be a disaster for Europe,”  he said. 

READ ALSO: Euro falls to 20-year low against US dollar

The FDP’s expert on Europe, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, takes a similar view. He said on ARD’s Morgenmagazin that cooperation with Italy in the European Union will become more difficult. He said that it will now be much more difficult to achieve unity in Europe, especially on the issues of migration, reform of the Stability and Growth Pact and the single market.

Speaking on RTL, Green Party leader Omid Nouripour called the election results in Italy “worrying” and pointed out that people within the Italian right-wing nationalist alliance have “very close entanglements with the Kremlin”.

“We can’t rule out the possibility that people in Moscow also popped the corks last night,” he said.

Germany’s own far-right party – Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – has been celebrating the victory. 

AfD member of the Bundestag Beatrix von Storch wrote “We cheer with Italy!” on Twitter late Sunday evening.

Referring to the recent elections in Sweden, where the right was also successful, von Storch wrote: “Sweden in the north, Italy in the south: left-wing governments are so yesterday.”

Her party colleague Malte Kaufmann tweeted, “A good day for Italy – a good day for Europe.”

With reporting from AFP

SHOW COMMENTS