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Germans hit the streets against deals with far right

Thuringia rocked German politics when state lawmakers from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU party voted with far-right, anti-immigrant AfD representatives to elect Thomas Kemmerich (pictured) state premier

Frankfurt am Main, Germany | AFP |  Ten thousand people are expected to join a demonstration Saturday in Erfurt, capital of Thuringia state in Germany’s former communist east, where far-right lawmakers last week helped install a new state premier.

“Not with us! No pacts with fascists any time or anywhere!” is the motto for the protest, organised by the DGB trade union federation, NGOs, artists and politicians belonging to the “Unteilbar” (indivisible) movement.

Thuringia rocked national politics on February 5, when state lawmakers from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU party voted with far-right, anti-immigrant AfD representatives to elect liberal politician Thomas Kemmerich state premier.

Spontaneous demonstrations quickly broke out across Germany in response, targeted especially at the CDU and Kemmerich’s Free Democrats (FDP).

Barely 24 hours after accepting the vote, Kemmerich agreed to step down.

But outrage at the centrist parties accepting help from the far right, a first since the founding of the Federal Republic in 1949, remains deep-seated among the protest organisers.

– ‘End of a taboo’ –

“This election was the end of a taboo” against cooperation with the far-right, Unteilbar spokesman Maximilian Becker told Berlin’s Tageszeitung newspaper.

“We want to show that what’s going on in Thuringia will not go unanswered.”

While Saturday’s demonstration is supposed to be peaceful, some have taken out their rage in attacks on FDP offices around Germany, Der Spiegel reported, a sign of festering political tensions nationwide.

Mainstream politicians charge that one of AfD’s aims is to paralyse or render ridiculous the normal functioning of the country’s institutions.

Merkel accused the party of wanting to “cripple democracy”, and in Thuringia, Kemmerich’s election and subsequent standing down have left the region hobbled for more than a week.

Now the far right says it could lend its votes to popular former Left party premier Bodo Ramelow in case of a new vote in Erfurt, potentially forcing him to turn down a new term.

Representatives from all parties apart from AfD plan to meet Monday to work through their options.

From a minority government to going back to the people in fresh elections, there are possibilities that could shut out AfD.

But the crisis has already claimed one vital scalp, after Merkel’s chosen successor and CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK) resigned on Monday when it became clear her grip on the party was too weak.

Some CDU members, especially in the former communist east, see no harm in working with the far right, which in recent state elections has booked scores above 20 percent across the region.

– ‘Funeral march’ –

AfD’s rhetoric of a remote Berlin elite more interested in coddling immigrants than supporting hard-working Germans resonates in the former East.

In Thuringia, average incomes reached 35,700 euros ($38,692) in 2018, compared with almost 43,000 euros nationwide, according to statistics authority Destatis.

The state’s unemployment rate is little higher than the national level of 5.0 percent, but large numbers of young people are leaving and the birth rate is on the slide.

More than one in four residents in Thuringia is older than 65, against just over one in five across Germany.

February’s coup for the far right came days before 75th anniversary commemorations in Dresden, capital of neighbouring Saxony state, for the baroque old city’s destruction in one night and day by Allied bombers in 1945.

Around 1,500 neo-Nazis are expected to hold a demonstration there Saturday, met with large numbers of counter-marchers and a heavy police presence.

They plan a “funeral march” for the supposed “martyrdom” of the city, which right-wing extremists — leaning on inflated reports of the number of victims in Nazi propaganda at the time — often claim is a crime by the Allies on par with the Holocaust.

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