'No to Nationalism': Huge rallies in Germany before EU vote

Tens of thousands gather in cities, including Berlin and Munich, to protest against nationalist and far-right parties.

    People attend the 'No to Hate, Yes to Change' pro-European demonstration, ahead of the EU election, in Berlin [Hannibal Hanschke/ Reuters]
    People attend the 'No to Hate, Yes to Change' pro-European demonstration, ahead of the EU election, in Berlin [Hannibal Hanschke/ Reuters]
    Correction 20/05/2019: A previous version of this story misnamed the capitals of Romania and Italy. This has been corrected below.

    Tens of thousands of people have marched in cities across Germany to protest against right-wing populism and nationalism, days ahead of a crucial European Parliament vote.

    The demonstrations on Sunday were held under the banner "One Europe for Everyone: Your Voice Against Nationalism" in cities including Berlin, Cologne, Leipzig, Frankfurt, Munich and Hamburg.

    "I am here because I don't want to relive what a national-socialist party already did during my lifetime. That should never happen again," said 74-year-old Renate Foigt, referring to the ideology of Nazi Germany.

    "I hope more and more people take to the streets to say 'Stop'."

    The DPA news agency reported that more than 20,000 people turned up to the protest in Berlin, while Munich and Hamburg saw the participation of about 10,000 people each.

    Another 14,000 people rallied in the streets of Frankfurt.

    In Cologne, organisers estimated that 45,000 people took part in the march - exceeding by far the 25,000 they had expected. 

    The 751-seat European Parliament has limited powers but the poll is being seen as a test of strength both by right-wing, populist and nationalist groups who want curbs on immigration and more authority for national governments on the one hand, and on the other by centre-left and mainstream parties who support the EU as a bulwark of cooperation among its 28 member states, rule of law and democracy.

    Recent polls show far-right parties like Italy's League, Germany's Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and French leader Marine Le Pen's National Rally (RN), are expected to do well in the vote for seats in European Parliament, scheduled to take place on May 23-26.

    Other gatherings under the slogan "No to Hate, Yes to Change" were planned in other European cities.

    In the Romanian capital, Bucharest, thousands turned out at Victoria Square, and the crowd formed a heart with the message: "Romania loves Europe".

    190516090301567

    "We want to tell them that their vote matters and that it's very important to go out and vote, to express their selection and to show Europe that Romania loves Europe," rally organiser Catalina Hoparteanu said.

    Several thousand also protested in the Austrian capital Vienna, where on Saturday protesters demanded new elections after far-right leader and vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resigned over a hidden-camera scandal suggesting he was open to corruption.

    The rally on Sunday came a day after Italy's populist leader Matteo Salvini gathered Europe's disparate nationalists for a unifying rally in Milan. 

    Salvini of the anti-immigrant League and Le Pen of France's RN want their Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) alliance group to become the third-largest in Brussels.

    Nationalist governments in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic also often push anti-immigrant agendas and clash with Brussels over their hardline policies and anti-EU stances.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies