BERLIN: Thousands of people have gathered in Germany’s capital to protest against a far-right rally called for by the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the country’s main opposition party.
An estimated 20,000 counter-demonstrators, including anti-fascists, pro-refugee organisations and LGBTQI groups, took to the streets of Berlin shouting slogans against the AfD rally, which saw party leaders addressing a crowd of about 5,000.
“Many times during the speeches by AfD leaders you couldn’t here what they were saying because they [counter-demonstrators] were playing loud band music and chanting ‘Nazis out’,” said Al Jazeera’s David Chater, reporting from Berlin.
He added that about 2,000 police officers had been deployed “to make sure there no trouble”.
“In the end, it was a vocal confrontation rather than a violent one,” Chater said.
Founded in 2013, the AfD became the first far-right party to enter Germany’s Bundestag in decades after securing more than 12 percent in last September’s elections on the back of a largely anti-refugees and anti-Islam agenda.
The AfD called the rally in response to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migration policy and other grievances.
“Parallel (to parliament), we take to the streets and give our members and supporters the chance to actively participate,” AfD organiser Guido Reil said at a press conference ahead of Sunday’s event, as reported by Deutsche Welle.
“That’s very important,” he added. “Because we’re alternative. It’s a new concept.”
‘Stop the hate’
Prior to the rally, Stoppt den Hass (“Stop the Hate”), an umbrella of anti-AfD protest groups, had said in a statement that it intended to block the far-right march from reaching its final destination.
“The AfD blames Muslims and displaced people for all evils, from poverty to sexual violence,” Stoppt den Hass said on its website.
The rise of Germany’s far right has coincided with a spike in anti-Semitism and surging attacks targeting refugee accommodations throughout the country.
In early May, a senior government official, Felix Klein, accused the AfD of creating a political environment in which anti-Semitism is tolerated.
“I don’t want to say the AfD is anti-Semitic, per se, but it tolerates representatives who are demanding a new policy of remembrance,” Klein told news website watson.de at the time.
“They initiated this discussion about drawing a line (under the Holocaust), and that is very dangerous because it helps make anti-Semitism presentable again.”
German authorities documented more than 3,500 attacks on refugees and their accommodations in 2016, and another 2,219 were recorded in 2017.
Although the AfD was initially founded as a Eurosceptic party, it was only able to break the five-percent threshold to enter the Bundestag after shifting its focus to migration and Islam.
Al Jazeera’s Chater said the party had caused a “real impact” in German politics, particularly in the Bundestag, where the party hold 92 seats.
“It is the first time since World War II that we are beginning to hear racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic and anti-Islamic comments, not only in the parliament but of course during these rallies on the streets of Berlin, and that is what has incensed these counter-protesters,” Chater said.
“The whole political complexion of Germany has changed since this party [the AfD] became the main opposition party.”__Al Jazeera