German Riot Police Deployed For Anti-Islam AfD Conference In Cologne

Thousands of police officers have been deployed in Cologne, Germany, as thousands of left-wing protesters gather to demonstrate against an Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) party conference.

The AfD, a populist right-wing and anti-Islam party, will seek to choose a new co-leader to take it up to a general election later this year.

Police have deployed 4,000 officers.

Two have been injured in clashes, one while escorting party members.

They have described the mood as tense and there are several reports of arrests. One man was detained after a police officer was hurt.

Some 10,000 protesters are there already, the German tabloid Bild reports (in German). Many shops are closed for the day, people in Cologne have tweeted, and police helicopters are overhead.

Bicycle blockade

About 100 people tried to break through a police line on the opposite side of the Rhine river from the conference venue, Die Welt newspaper reports (in German). Outside the hotel, 50-60 people blocked access using a chain of bicycles. Police broke this up, leading to skirmishes with protesters.

It is not the first time an AfD conference has attracted demonstrations. When the party met last year in Stuttgart, hundreds of protesters were detained.

Police escorted 13 couples through nearby streets to their wedding ceremonies in the city hall, local news site RP Online reports. One told the site (in German): “We’re getting straight out and celebrating in Bochum [another city in the region].”

AfD co-leader Frauke Petry, who is nine months pregnant, announced earlier this week that she would be the party’s chief candidate in the September general election, meaning she would not be the face of the AfD or compete with Chancellor Angela Merkel to lead the country.

At Saturday’s conference, she argued that the party should become more mainstream and seek to govern in coalition rather than staying in opposition but delegates voted against her approach.

The party pushed Mrs Merkel’s governing conservatives into third place in a regional election last year and hopes to build on its success by getting its first seats in the federal parliament.

It rose on a wave of opposition to Mrs Merkel’s 2015 open-door policy to refugees.

However, all the mainstream parties have said they will refuse to form a coalition with the AfD.

Opinion polls suggest a sharp recent drop in the party’s popularity – from 15% late last year to between 7% and 11% now.

It is beset by infighting between Dr Petry’s pragmatic wing and a wing that is further to the right. The party’s reputation has been dented by a local leader’s comments in January that the Holocaust memorial in Berlin was a “memorial of defeat”. The party has voted to expel him and he will not be allowed to attend the conference.

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