Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 May 2020

Germany’s anti-migrant AfD rocked by neo-Nazi secret

Senior leader expelled as party sought to capitalise on protests against Covid-19 rules

Exit stage right: Andreas Kalbitz has been expelled from the AfD over his links to a neo-Nazi group. EPA
Exit stage right: Andreas Kalbitz has been expelled from the AfD over his links to a neo-Nazi group. EPA

Germany’s leading anti-migrant party has been rocked by a feud within its upper ranks after the expulsion of a senior leader over his former membership of a neo-Nazi group.

Expelled was Andreas Kalbitz, the chief for Alternative for Germany (AfD) in the state of Brandenburg.

Meanwhile, the party sought to capitalise on discontent against the government’s tactics to tackle Covid-19, which brought thousands on to the streets at the weekend.

The AfD has been damaged at the opinion polls by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, which has been praised across Europe.

But the far-right party has sought to exploit growing protests by a group of anti-vaccine campaigners, extremists and conspiracy theorists to build their support.

AfD secured a record high vote at national elections in 2017 when it capitalised on discontent over migration but has since been damaged by internal divisions and a resurgence in popularity for Mrs Merkel.

It holds 89 of the 709 parliamentary seats but is polling about 10 per cent nationwide, down three points from 2017.

The censure for Mr Kalbitz, who had concealed his past membership of a neo-Nazi group, was regarded as part of a strategy to rein in the most extreme wing of the party and maintain the AfD as a viable alternative for middle-class voters.

"We need to demonstrate cohesion but we also need to clearly distance ourselves from extreme-right positions,” co-leader Joerg Meuthen told broadcaster ARD.

The expulsion sparked anger from the most radical faction of the AfD, led by Bjoern Hoecke, who accused the party’s leadership of “treason”.

"I will not allow our party to be divided and destroyed, and I know our members and our voters see this the same way I do," Mr Hoecke said.

Divisions widened in March when the radical section of the party was placed under police surveillance because of its association with known neo-Nazis.

Several thousand people took to the streets at the weekend, including 5,000 in Stuttgart. One poster claimed that “corona is fake”, AFP reported.

“We are seeing a trend in which extremists, particularly those on the right, are exploiting the demonstrations," Thomas Haldenwang, head of Germany's domestic intelligence service, told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

A poll by Spiegel magazine found almost one in four Germans surveyed voicing “understanding” for the demonstrations.

The growth of the demonstrations has sparked concerns within the top ranks of Mrs Merkel’s party.

Updated: May 18, 2020 03:16 AM

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