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GERMANY is indivisible, protesters proclaimed on Saturday as almost quarter of a million people took to the streets of Berlin in a display of unity against the far right.
Trade unions, pro-refugee groups and LGBT organisations were among those backing the demonstration, which was called in response to a resurgent far right and anti-immigration populism.
Organisers said 242,000 turned out in the German capital, marching under the slogan: “Solidarity instead of exclusion — for an open and free society.”
Tensions over immigration policy have risen in Germany since Chancellor Angela Merkel accepted one million refugees fleeing war zones, many coming from the Middle East.
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has sought to exploit the situation, accusing immigrants of being to blame for many of the country’s problems.
AfD won 94 seats in last year’s federal elections, making it the first far-right party to enter the Reichstag since the defeat of nazism in 1945.
The party became the official opposition earlier this year after the Social Democratic Party (SPD) entered government as the junior coalition partner of Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats.
Resurgent far-right activity saw a wave of anti-immigrant protests and attacks on foreigners following the murder of a Cuban-German in the eastern city of Chemnitz.
The violence was condemned by many, including Ms Merkel, but Saturday’s demonstration was snubbed by the local branch of her party, with spokesman Stefan Evers claiming it had the backing of “dubious organisations.”
Die Linke leader Sarah Wagenknecht also refused to join her party at the demonstration, claiming that it called for “open borders for everyone” — a stance that, she said, marginalised those who oppose racism but favour controlled immigration.
Her own movement, Aufstehen, has caused division on the left, with many accusing it of pandering to the arguments of the right by demanding a tougher line on immigration.
However, Katarina Barley of the SPD, a cabinet minister in Ms Merkel’s government, said: “The many people in Berlin today supporting cohesion and an open society show courage. We are not divided by hatred and racism.”
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the demonstration was “a great signal that so many people are going on the streets and showing a clear position: we are indivisible. We won’t let ourselves be divided, certainly not by right-wing populists.”
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