Tens of thousands of people have gathered across Germany to protest against a far-right political party and its stance against migrants and refugees.
People protested in several cities and small towns on Saturday, with some mocking the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party with signs saying “Fascism is not an alternative”, German media reported.
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The protests come following an outcry after it was revealed that AfD members held a meeting with far-right activists and discussed plans to mass deport foreigners.
Police said some 35,000 people joined a call under the banner “Defend democracy – Frankfurt against the AfD”, marching in the financial heart of Germany.
A similar number, some carrying posters like “Nazis out”, turned up in the northern city of Hanover. Another 30,000 turned up in the western city of Dortmund.
Protests were also held in cities including Braunschweig, Erfurt, Kassel and many smaller towns, mirroring mobilisation every day over the past week.
Germany’s ARD public television put the total turnout on Saturday at more than 200,000 people.
In all, demonstrations have been called in about 100 locations across Germany from Friday through the weekend, including in Berlin on Sunday.
Politicians, churches, and Bundesliga coaches have urged people to stand up against the AfD.
On January 10, a report by investigative outlet Correctiv revealed that AfD members had discussed the expulsion of immigrants and “non-assimilated citizens” at a meeting with other far-right activists.
Among the participants at the talks was Martin Sellner, a leader of Austria’s Identitarian Movement, which subscribes to the “great replacement” conspiracy theory that claims there is a plot by non-white migrants to replace Europe’s “native” white population.
‘An attack against our democracy’
News of the far-right gathering sent shockwaves across Germany at a time when the AfD is polling second in nationwide surveys, just months before three major regional elections in eastern Germany where their support is strongest.
The anti-immigration party confirmed the presence of its members at the meeting but denied taking on the “remigration” project championed by Sellner. Co-leader Alice Weidel parted ways with one of her advisers who participated in the talks.
But leading politicians, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who joined a demonstration last weekend, said any plan to expel immigrants or citizens alike amounted to “an attack against our democracy, and in turn, on all of us”. He urged “all to take a stand – for cohesion, for tolerance, for our democratic Germany”.
Members of the country’s business industry also voiced their concerns.
“If everything is true as reported, then that is absolutely disgusting,” said Siemens Energy’s supervisory board chairman Joe Kaeser in an interview with Reuters news agency published on Saturday.
Kaeser’s comments come after leaders of German companies, including chip manufacturer Infineon and chemicals maker Evonik, voiced their concerns earlier this week.
Highlighting lessons from Germany’s history, Kaeser warned of the damage to Germany’s image around the world and called on German businesses to publicly warn of the consequences.