Riot police fired water canon at protesters blocking a road outside an Alternative for Germany (AfD) congress on Saturday, as members of the far-right party gathered inside preparing to pick new leaders, APA reports quoting Reuters.
Anti-AfD activists regrouped to wave placards reading “Hanover against Nazis” and “Stand up to racism”, underlining the divisive impact the party has had since it rose to enter the Bundestag lower house for the first time in a Sept. 24 election.
Members will vote for two senior officials who will determine whether AfD doubles down on its anti-Islam message or softens its rhetoric to broaden its support base before two regional elections next year.
As the congress got underway, AfD leader Joerg Meuthen, a moderating force expected to win re-election, praised the party often beset by internal strife for showing unity after two senior members quit in September in protest against what they saw as an unstoppable populist streak.
“There are people in this country who don’t only say ‘We can do this’ but who actually manage to do something,” Meuthen told delegates, putting a new twist on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das” (We can do it) message to those who doubted Germany can deal with a record influx of migrants in 2015.
Merkel, whose conservatives bled support to the AfD in the election, turned to the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) last month after her efforts to form a coalition with the ecologist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) failed.