BERLIN: Clashes broke out between dozens of asylum-seekers and far-right extremists in an eastern German city, forcing police to call in reinforcements to quell the violence, police said Thursday.
Around 20 migrant youths sparked the violence Wednesday night in the city of Bautzen, police chief Uwe Kilz said, when they flung bottles and wooden slats at around 80 young German men and women from the far-right scene.
The right-wing extremists, many of whom were drunk, returned the abuse with stones and bottles, he added, in the latest incident to hit the small former communist town, which has been the scene of several eruptions of hostility toward refugees.
The arrival of around one million asylum-seekers in 2015 has deeply polarised Germany and fuelled a surge in support for right-wing populists AfD, which has run an anti-migrant and Islamophobic campaign.
Illustrating the tensions, a restaurant owner in northern Germany sparked a heated social media debate when he told a woman wearing a niqab to leave after she refused to remove the face veil.
Christian Schulz, the owner of the Seekrug restaurant, rejected charges of racism and defended his actions, telling Bild daily he did it “because it gives several guests an uncomfortable feeling to have fully veiled women in their midst”.
He added that he was far from xenophobic as several of his staff are foreigners — including from Turkey, Ghana, Pakistan or Egypt.
In Bautzen, police chief Kilz said the group of asylum seekers, identified as unaccompanied minors, also threw projectiles at the 100 officers sent in to stop the clashes, adding that police used pepper spray and batons to separate the groups.
The battling sides subsequently left the scene, but the far-right extremists broke up into smaller groups and chased the migrants to a refugee shelter.
The migrants fled into the building, while officers formed a cordon to prevent attacks, police said, adding that three other shelters had to be protected by security forces overnight.
In a video circulating on social media, the far-right group could be heard chanting “we are the people”.
Meanwhile an ambulance sent for an 18-year-old Moroccan man, who was found with a gash on his arm, was also pelted by stones by the German extremists, said police.
The trouble had been building up over a few days, said Kilz, after young migrants had begun gathering regularly at the flashpoint downtown square called Kornmarkt over the summer.
Their presence drew increasing numbers of anti-migrant militants, apparently mobilised through Facebook posts, said the police chief.
Skirmishes had already broken out over the past week, but not on the scale of Wednesday’s clash.
Bautzen authorities are planning to impose an alcohol ban and 7 pm curfew on the 30 young asylum-seekers living in the town, according to local media reports.
Four of the migrant “ring-leaders” in Wednesday’s violence have been transferred to another commune, according to local authorities.
Condemning the violence, Mayor Alexander Ahrens said “Bautzen must not become the playground of violent right extremists”.
MP Caren Lay of the far-left opposition Linke party said “that so many neo-Nazis were able to come together so quickly leads one to suspect that this racist attack was planned”, adding that the “pogrom atmosphere” in Bautzen must end.
Former communist eastern Germany has been the scene of several ugly incidents in which far-right extremists targeted asylum-seekers.
In February, a cheering crowd was seen outside a burning asylum-seeker shelter in Bautzen, clapping and shouting: “Good, that’s up in flames.”
That same weekend, a video emerged of far-right thugs intimidating refugees — including crying children — and preventing them from getting off a bus to get into another shelter in the eastern town of Clausnitz.
President Joachim Gauck, who had on several occasions urged Germans to extend a welcoming hand to refugees, was booed during a visit to Bautzen, a town of 40,000 people which borders the Czech Republic.
Germany recorded nearly 1,000 far-right offences targeting refugee shelters last year, a five-fold annual rise. AFP