German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been booed and called a “traitor to the nation” during a campaign rally in eastern Germany. The demonstrators, members of the right-wing AfD party, hit out at her refugee policy and held banners reading “Not my chancellor.”
On Thursday, as part of her election campaign ahead of the September parliamentary polls, Merkel made a stop in the small town of Annaberg-Buchholz, in the eastern federal state of Saxony.
However, the chancellor, who is widely expected to win a fourth term, was met by a crowd of protesters from the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the anti-immigrant Pegida movement.
The crowd of an estimated 150 people effectively hijacked the campaign rally and waved banners reading “Traitors to the nation” and “Get out of here” as the chancellor took to the stage.
They also held signs reading “Regime Change in Germany!” and “CDU – we are destroying Germany,” referring to the Christian Democratic Union of Germany party, of which Merkel is the head.
“Not My Kanzlerin [Chancelllor],” read another banner held by protesters. The slogan is similar to the one held by protesters after US President Donald Trump was elected.
In her speech, Merkel attempted to defend her policy toward asylum seekers.
“Many people were worried. They said to themselves: ‘What about us? Are we still important or are only the refugees important’?” she told crowds in the central market square in the town, as cited by Reuters.
She also hit back at the booing crowd: “Some want to listen, but others can only shout. That is what separates us.”
Saxony has been swept by anti-immigration and anti-Muslim protests in recent years, with Pegida staging regular “Monday walks” against the government refugee policy and perceived Islamization of Germany.
“I’ve voted for Merkel in the past, but I can’t anymore,” Reiner Krueger, a 64-year-old retired baker, told Reuters. “She made a huge mistake with the refugees. They are hoping people forget, but I can’t.”
Minister-President of Saxony Stanislaw Tillich, from Merkel’s CDU party, condemned the protest.
“Those from Annaberg who wanted to listen to the chancellor and get an opinion came for [Merkel’s speech]. And then there was a group [of protesters] that didn’t want to listen, that only wanted to make a riot,” he said.
The protesters also sprayed anti-Merkel and anti-refugee slogans in the town of Thermalbad Wiesenbad, some 5km from Annaberg-Buchholz, Die Welt reported.
On Monday, a group of around 100 AfD supporters also booed the chancellor in the western town of Gelnhausen. The demonstrators chanted “Merkel needs to go.”
Merkel has seen her popularity drop by at least 10 points, according to an Infratest dimap opinion poll published earlier in August. Her approval rating now stands at 59 percent.
Germany received at least 740,000 asylum applications in 2016, the asylumineurope.org website said, citing Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). The majority of refugees came from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the website.
Merkel’s open door refugee policy has seen numerous protests in Germany since the major migrant influx in 2015. “Merkel must go!” has become a popular slogan during such rallies.
A massive wave of outrage swept through Germany after sexual assaults during the 2015 New Year’s Eve celebrations in front of Cologne’s main train station. Among the identified suspects, at least 18 were asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa.
Germany has been also hit by several attacks committed by asylum seekers with links to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISSI/ISIL). In 2016, Syrian refugee Mohammad Daleel blew himself up in the city of Ansbach, Bavaria, injuring at least 15 people.
The perpetrator behind the Würzburg train attack in 2016 was a young refugee from Afghanistan.
In August last year, the vice-head of the Bavarian department of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Manfred Hauser said, that there was an “abstract” but “very high risk” that IS members had infiltrated Germany as refugees and set up sleeper cells there.