German police officers suspended over Nazi salute amid warnings over rise of country's far right

‘If the Hitler salute is made on our streets today once again, it is a disgrace to our country,’ says foreign minister

Chris Baynes
Monday 03 September 2018 15:55
Far-right protesters take to streets in Chemnitz, Germany after man killed

Two German police officers have been suspended after allegedly performing the Nazi salute, an incident likely to fuel fears about the rise of the far right in the country.

Bavarian authorities said the officers and a third man, believed to be a security guard, shouted anti-immigrant remarks before performing the salute in a pub in the city of Rosenheim.

They were placed under investigation after a witness in the same beer garden reported them.

It comes amid growing concern about neo-Nazism in Germany, where thousands of far-right supporters have taken part in protests and clashed with anti-fascist rivals in the past week.

Tensions have run high since a 35-year-old German-Cuban man was allegedly stabbed to death by immigrants in Chemnitz, a city in the eastern state of Saxony.

The killing triggered far-right rallies at which protesters were pictured making Nazi salutes and chasing down and attacking passers-by they suspected of being foreign.

Supporters of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the anti-Islam Pegida movement were among about 6,000 demonstrators who took part in the latest protests on Saturday night.

About 3,500 anti-fascist protesters staged a counter-demonstration.

Politicians have voiced fears about the unrest and called for Germans to publicly oppose emboldened neo-Nazis.

“If once again people are parading today in the streets making Nazi salutes, our past history forces us to resolutely defend democracy,” said foreign minister Heiko Maas.

He urged people to “get up off the sofa and speak up,” adding: “If the Hitler salute is made on our streets today once again, it is a disgrace to our country.”

Under German law, it is a criminal offence to display Nazi symbols.

Some politicians have called surveillance of AfD after some of the party’s leaders took part in the anti-immigration protests.

“After Chemnitz, there are good reasons to do that. The AfD allowed itself to become a front organisation for radical rightists in the streets of Chemnitz, either willingly or unwillingly,” said Social Democrat leader Andrea Nahles, whose party is a minority partner in Angela Merkel’s coalition government.

Bavarian president Markus Soeder told broadcaster NTV there may not be enough evidence to warrant observation of the AfD as a whole, but suggested individuals could potentially be monitored.

“It’s not just about an opposition party; they have a hidden agenda,” he said. “We have to send a clear signal in Bavaria that we don’t want what happened in Chemnitz.”

Markus Frohnmaier, an AfD MP, last week appeared to endorse violence against migrants, tweeting: “When the state can no longer protect its citizens, people take to the streets and protect themselves.”

The AfD, which won nearly 13 per cent in last year’s federal elections, rose two percentage points to 16 per cent in an RTL opinion poll after the events in Chemnitz.

The tension that has built up in the city reflects the growing polarisation over Germany’s liberal immigration policies, which have allowed more than a million refugees and migrants to move to the country since 2015.

The leaking of the arrest warrant for one of the two stabbing suspects has raised concerns that some justice officials or police in the state of Saxony were sympathetic to the far right.

The 22-year-old Iraqi suspect's name and address has been shared by far-right groups on social media, sparking fears of vigilante attacks and prompting police to open an investigation into the “violation of official secrets”.

"We will not allow the extreme right to infiltrate our society," justice minister Katarina Barley told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday, urging authorities in Saxony to investigate far-right groups.

A 23-year-old Syrian man has also been arrested on suspicion of killing Daniel Hillig, who was stabbed to death in a fight in Chemnitz in the early hours of 26 August.

His friends have suggested Mr Hilling, whose mother was Cuban, would be appalled by the racism and violence in his name.

Thousands of people were expected to attend an anti-racist concert in Chemnitz on Monday evening as efforts to counter the far-right rallies step up.

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