Violence erupted in the eastern German city of Chemnitz late Monday when right-wing demonstrators clashed with an eclectic group of anti-fascists and migrants after the arrests of an Iraqi and a Syrian as suspects in a fatal knife attack on a German man.
Police said the two sides hurled pyrotechnic devices and bottles at each other — over the heads of helmet-clad riot police separating the rival groups — just after sunset in the poor eastern city near the Czech border in clashes between a group of about 2,000 right-wingers who showed up to commemorate the slain German man and 1,000 leftists who chanted, “Nazis out.”
Some of the right-wing marchers were captured by TV news cameras giving the outlawed Hitler salute. Tensions in the region have smoldered for the last three years as more than 1.4 million refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East have migrated to Germany.
The pushback over the arriving immigrants has been most acute in the eastern state of Saxony, where the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party has far more support than elsewhere in the country. During the protests Monday in Chemnitz, those on the right shouted slogans such as, “The national resistance is here,” and, “This is our country.”
Groups of leftists and migrants gathered under the slogan “Nazi-free Chemnitz” were photographed just before the eruption of violence making obscene gestures at the opposition marchers, who turned out in far larger numbers than police had anticipated.
Right-wing groups throughout the region appealed on social media for nationalists to march in Chemnitz in the wake of Sunday’s stabbing death of the 35-year-old man. A 23-year-old Syrian and a 22-year-old Iraqi were arrested Monday in connection with the attack, which also left two other Germans badly injured, the state prosecutors office in Chemnitz said.
“It’s disgusting to see how right-wing extremists are using the internet for calling for violence,” said Michael Kretschmer, governor of Saxony, in a Twitter statement. “We’re not going to allow the image of our state to be tarnished by such radicals.”
Earlier Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, condemned a smaller number of right-wingers for their attempted vigilante justice on Sunday. They were captured on video that was posted on social media showing them chasing down and attacking people in Chemnitz who appeared to be foreigners. Several people were injured in Sunday's attacks.
“We will not tolerate such mob rule and hunting down of people who look different or come from another country or any attempt to spread hatred on our streets,” Seibert told a government news conference in Berlin.
“There’s no room for that in a state based on the rule of law. And speaking on behalf of the German government, I can say that we condemn that with the strongest possible language.”