Far-right demonstrators and left-wing counter-protesters clashed in the eastern German city of Chemnitz on Monday, with police investigating reports that right-wing demonstrators aggressively chased anyone who looked like they might be an immigrant.
The violence erupted early Sunday after an altercation in which a German man was fatally stabbed in the city center. Two other men were seriously hurt. Local police said they arrested a 23-year-old Syrian man and a 22-year-old Iraqi man on suspicion of murder.
In response to the attack, around 100 people held a protest on Sunday which, according to the BBC, passed without incident. But later in the day, a group of about 800 people gathered in the city center, chanting slogans including, “we are the people,” “foreigners out,” and “this is our city.” In response left-wing anti-fascist groups mobilized, and the two sets of protesters faced off against each other. Police were bracing for more demonstrations on Monday.
“[The far-right protesters] stormed at anyone who did not look German,” freelance journalist Johannes Grunert, who was at the scene, told Der Spiegel. A local group of far-right football hooligans, known as Kaotic Chemnitz, reportedly had encouraged its supporters to take part in the violence.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the violence and alleged assaults on immigrants. “We don’t tolerate such unlawful assemblies and the hounding of people who look different or have different origins, and attempts to spread hatred on the street,” her spokesman said. “There is no place in Germany for vigilante justice, for groups that want to spread hatred on the streets, for intolerance and for extremism.”
However the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which made major gains in last year’s election, capitalized on the incident. “If the state can no longer protect the citizens, people go to the streets to protect themselves,” AfD politician Markus Frohnmaier tweeted. “Today it is the citizens’ duty to stop the [death-bringing] ‘knife migration!'”
The incident occurred in the German region of Saxony, where the AfD made their strongest gains and the Islamophobic PEGIDA movement is also extremely strong. Last week, a German TV crew that was filming far-right protests in Saxony’s state capital Dresden was held for nearly an hour, after a far-right demonstrator complained. It later emerged that the demonstrator was in fact an off-duty police officer.
This piece has been updated to clarify that the far-right groups in Chemnitz were facing off against left-wing anti-fascist counter-protesters.