Germans protest migrants, officials

CHEMNITZ, Germany (AP) — Hundreds of people protested and expressed disdain for politicians in east Germany Thursday as a regional governor visited a city where the fatal stabbing of a German citizen sparked violent clashes over immigration.

Saxony state Gov. Michael Kretschmer had a town hall meeting in Chemnitz under the watch of tight police security as about 500 people demonstrated outside.

Many of the protesters refused to talk to the media, but the ones who did said they felt abandoned by politicians and were angry at the crimes committed by migrants.

At the site where the 35-year-old man was wounded in an altercation with migrants over the weekend, a message placed among the flowers and candles read: “Take away their knives or we’ll take away your elected offices.”

Authorities denied online rumors that the victim was protecting a woman from harassment when he was stabbed, saying there was no evidence this had been the case.

The slaying has become a rallying point for far-right groups in Germany. At least 18 people were injured Monday when their supporters, mobilized from surrounding areas and further afield, clashed with counter-protesters in Chemnitz.

The public display, which included neo-Nazis hurling abuse and bottles as police struggled to keep the groups apart, has raised fresh concerns about the threat posed by far-right extremists in Germany.

Green party lawmaker Claudia Roth told German news agency dpa that “organized far-right extremists” appeared to be using public anger over the killing for their ends. Footage showing numerous protesters performing the stiff-armed Nazi salute was evidence of their extremist ideology, Roth said.

Public displays of the salute, the Nazi swastika and other efforts to glorify Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist regime are forbidden in Germany and can result in fines or prison sentences.

Saxony state has long been a hotbed of anti-migrant sentiment. It is home to the group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA, and a stronghold of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which received almost a quarter of the vote in the state last year.

There have been regular attacks against migrants over the years in Saxony, especially since the influx of more than a million refugees to Germany in 2015 and 2016. While the share of foreigners in Saxony remains below the national average, concern among the population about migrants committing crimes is particularly high.

Chemnitz prosecutors said a 22-year-old Iraqi and a 23-year-old Syrian were arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in connection with Sunday’s killing.

Kretschmer, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, faces a state election next year. Adding to the pressure on him, opposition parties have called for an investigation into alleged collusion between Saxony police and far-right extremists after the arrest warrants for the two suspects were leaked on social media.

Later Thursday, Saxony’s state justice department said it suspended a prison guard for leaking the copy of an arrest warrant for one of the suspects.

Meanwhile, daily newspaper Die Welt reported that the Iraqi suspect had applied for asylum in Bulgaria before coming to Germany. Under European Union policy, he should have been deported back to the eastern European country. The newspaper said German authorities did not follow through on returning him to Bulgaria.

Authorities in Saxony have requested the help of federal police to prevent further outbursts of violence in coming days. The regional police department came under suspicion this week after a man at a far-right protest was filmed harassing journalists.

Police subsequently held the reporters for 45 minutes — ostensibly to check their identities — preventing them from covering the demonstration. It later emerged that the protester was a civilian employee of Saxony’s criminal police department.

On Thursday, the state police department said that after talks with the man and his lawyer, the man would resign next week, dpa reported.

In a separate incident, police said Thursday that a 20-year-old Syrian man was hospitalized after he was attacked in the northern city of Wismar by three German-speaking men shouting anti-migrant slurs.

He was released after treatment for a fractured nose and bruises to his face and upper body.

The co-leader of Alternative for Germany, which placed third in last year’s national election, said he understood the public anger over the German man’s death.

Alexander Gauland told Die Welt in an interview published Wednesday that “when such a killing occurs, it’s normal for people to snap.”