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Merkel: ‘Far-right protestors and neo-Nazis do not stand for Chemnitz or Saxony’

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday urged Germans to stand up against the far right's message of hate and division, after the eastern city of Chemnitz was rocked by xenophobic protests.

Merkel: 'Far-right protestors and neo-Nazis do not stand for Chemnitz or Saxony'
Participants at the demonstration of AfD and Pegida in Chemnitz on Saturday. Photo: DPA

Scenes of far-right protesters chasing down foreign-looking people in violent demonstrations last week against the fatal stabbing of a man, allegedly by an Iraqi, shocked Germany.

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said it was understandable that such crimes would provoke sadness and concern among the population.

But the marches by “violence-prone right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis have nothing in the least to do with sadness for a person or with concern for a city's cohesion”, he said.

“These people who march and are prone to violence – some have also shamelessly shown their closeness to Nazism – they stand neither for Chemnitz nor for Saxony overall, neither are they 'the people',” said Seibert, referring to a popular “We are the people” chant used by far-right protesters.

“We must make that clear to them,” be it through political or legal means, he said.

“Every citizen can also raise his or her voice to clearly show them their attitude against hate, against the attempt to divide this country.”

But the criticism of the right-wing extremist protesters was immediately rejected by far-right party AfD.

“An entire state and its people are vilified here in general because there is a distinct and understandable resentment about the circumstances,” Jörg Meuthen, AfD co-chief said at a street festival in Bavaria.

After a weekend of rival protests in Chemnitz that saw far-right demonstrators vastly outnumber counter-protesters by 8,000 to 3,000, calls have grown for the silent majority to mobilize.

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged Germans to “get off our sofas and open our mouths” against xenophobia.

Later on Monday, several left-leaning and anti-fascist punk bands, are due to perform in a free concert under the motto “there are more of us”, with several thousands expected to join in the protest against racist violence.

A “window demo” call has also gone out on social media for those who cannot make it to Chemnitz to hang a colourful poster on the window or balcony to show their support for the anti-racist cause.

The unrest has once again put the spotlight on Merkel's liberal refugee policy that led to the arrival of more than one million asylum seekers since 2015.

Resentment against the newcomers runs particularly deep in Saxony state, where Chemnitz is located, and the AfD has won strong support in the region with its anti-migrant campaign.

Surveys suggest it is poised to become Saxony's second biggest party in next year's regional elections.

Read more: Thousands protest for and against migrants in divided Chemnitz

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POLITICS

Can German Chancellor Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

The last time Germany hosted a G7 summit, then-chancellor Angela Merkel produced a series of viral images with Barack Obama, clinking giant mugs in a traditional Bavarian beer garden and communing against a verdant Alpine backdrop.

Can German Chancellor Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

Her successor Olaf Scholz, hobbled in domestic opinion polls and of modest global stature, may struggle to match that convivial atmosphere when leaders gather again from Sunday.

The centrist Scholz, 64, assumed the presidency of the Group of Seven rich countries in January, just a month after taking office in Berlin.

Since then his handling of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, soaring inflation and energy supply complications have put his government to the test while sending his approval ratings plunging.

READ ALSO: Opinion – Scholz is already out of step at Germany – it’s time for a change of course

Scholz told parliament on Wednesday he was ready to seize the three days of talks at the Elmau Castle mountain resort – the same remote, picturesque venue Merkel chose in 2015 – to burnish Germany’s global image and the standing of the West.

“In Europe’s biggest security crisis for decades, Germany as the economically strongest and most populous country in the EU is assuming special responsibility – and not just for its own security but also for the security of its allies,” he said.

A series of summits in the coming days must show “that G7, EU and NATO are as united as ever” and that the “democracies of the world are standing together in the fight against (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s imperialism,” Scholz said.

READ ALSO: Germany tightens border controls ahead of G7 summit

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the EU summit in Brussels on June 23rd.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the EU summit in Brussels on June 23rd 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Olivier Matthys

‘Merkel tradition’

Joachim Trebbe, a professor of political communication at Berlin’s Free University, said Scholz had a “huge opportunity” with the G7 to dispel any doubts about his leadership skills or resolve against the Russian president.

“At the start of his term and even when the war began, Scholz was quite reserved – perhaps a little bit in the tradition of Ms Merkel,” a
still-popular conservative the Social Democratic chancellor has sought to emulate, Trebbe said.

She also “tended to manage crises and didn’t pay much attention to informing the media at every step”.

Former US President Barack Obama and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel sit during a concert visit in Elmau (Bavaria) in June 2015 as part of the G7 summit.

Former US President Barack Obama and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a concert visit in Elmau (Bavaria) in June 2015 during the G7 summit. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

After accusations of foot-dragging, Scholz’s attempts at a reset were on display during a long-delayed visit to Kyiv last week, joined by the leaders of France, Italy and Romania.

A journalist from the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung travelling with the chancellor noted that he had a tendency to make gaffes under pressure – like “an old tap that either releases ice-cold or boiling water”.

‘Symbols’

His trouble finding the middle ground had led him to exercise too much caution when it came to sending weapons to Ukraine, or too little, as when on a visit to Lithuania this month he significantly overstated German arms deliveries.   

The chancellor, whose sometimes robotic style has earned him the nickname Scholzomat, has also found himself outflanked in his own unwieldy ruling coalition of his Social Democrats (SPD), ecologist Greens and liberal Free Democrats.

A poll this week showed that the Greens – with popular Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck, both credited with clearer messaging on Ukraine — were leading the SPD in voter intentions for the first time since July 2021.

Both parties, however, are currently trailing the conservative opposition, which has relentlessly criticised Scholz’s Ukraine and energy policies as too timid.

READ ALSO: Why has Germany been so slow to deliver weapons to Ukraine?

Trebbe said that initiatives at the G7 bearing Scholz’s imprint on issues including future political and economic support for Ukraine, climate
protection and strengthening democracies worldwide were crucial if he hoped to gain political tailwinds from the summit.

But he said the gathering was nearly as much about generating images, such as the instant meme of Merkel, arms outstretched, explaining her world view to a nonchalant Obama, draped in repose on a wooden bench.

“That’s where symbols of unity, common strategy and strong leadership are created,” Trebbe said.

“I’m pretty sure Scholz has a team of professionals ready to take full advantage of that aspect of the summit.”

By Deborah COLE

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