HEIDENAU: The German government said Friday it was sending police reinforcements to the eastern state of Saxony, following violent anti-migrant protests which prompted a ban on rallies in the flashpoint town of Heidenau.
Heidenau, a town of around 16,000 inhabitants near Dresden, has become the focus of Germany’s struggle to absorb a vast wave of asylum seekers that is expected to reach a record 800,000 this year.
“Saxony sought the help of federal police and this support will be provided,” interior ministry spokesman Johannes Dimroth said, without saying how many officers would be deployed.
Last weekend, police and far right demonstrators clashed outside a refugee centre in Heidenau. On a visit to the town this week Chancellor Angela Merkel was booed by protesters.
The incidents prompted local authorities to outlaw all outdoor public gatherings from Friday afternoon until Monday morning, claiming they could not ensure public safety.
An administrative court in Dresden on Friday declared the ban “clearly illegal”, saying police forces from around the country could be sent as backup.
“In addition, the police have the resources, including water cannon, to prevent any disproportionate damage,” the court said.
But a few hours later Saxony’s administrative court of appeal reinstated the prohibition, banning all gatherings over the weekend, including those in support of refugees.
Chancellor Angela Merkel herself pledged to do “everything possible to provide support to the Saxony police” at a news conference with Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen.
Merkel has condemned the anti-migrant protests as “vile” and travelled to Heidenau on Wednesday in a show of support for refugees and volunteers at the shelter.
But as she arrived at the centre, some 200 people jeered and booed her, shouting far-right slogans, including “Traitor, traitor!” and “We are the mob”.
As the courts were weighing legal arguments for and against the ban Friday, dozens of pro-refugee activists travelled to Heidenau to hold a ‘welcome party’ for the newcomers.
“Refugees are welcome here!” they shouted, many of them wearing t-shirts bearing the slogan “No one is illegal”.
They also handed out clothes and other supplies to the 250 refugees staying at the shelter.
An anti-racism demonstration was also planned Saturday afternoon in Dresden, stronghold of the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement, whose demonstrations drew up to 25,000 at the start of the year.
The initial decision to ban public gatherings had been sharply criticised by politicians and Germany’s police union GdP, whose deputy chief Joerg Radek described it as “kneeling before the mob in Heidenau”.
It is “a slap in the face” for all who “stand against the stupid cheap propaganda of the far right,” said Radek.
Opposition Greens party leader Cem Ozdemir told public broadcaster ARD that the decision effectively “overwrites democracy for four days because the Saxony state is overwhelmed”.
The sudden surge in people seeking refugee in Europe’s biggest economy has exposed a wave of anti-migrant sentiment, particularly in the eastern part of the country which lags behind the west in terms of jobs and opportunities some 25 years after reunification.
A spate of arson attacks have targeted refugee shelters in recent weeks.
On Friday, local police reported an apparent arson attempt against an asylum-seekers’ shelter in the northwestern state of Lower Saxony, where a molotov cocktail was thrown into a former school building now serving as a refugee home.
A woman and her three children living at the shelter in Salzhemmendorf escaped without injury as fire fighters were able to put out the flames quickly, police said.
A 24-year-old man with a history of violence, a 30-year-old man with previous theft convictions and a 23-year-old woman were arrested over the incident.
Regional interior minister Stefan Weil told NDR radio that the three had confessed to the attack.