Germany will not tolerate “vigilante justice”, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said on Monday, after hundreds of far-right supporters protested in the eastern city of Chemnitz against the death of a man involved in a multi-ethnic dispute.
Police said around 800 demonstrators had gathered in Chemnitz on Sunday, hours after a 35-year-old man died following a dispute between several people of “different nationalities”. Some of the protesters had thrown bottles at police officers.
The demonstration followed calls on social media by far-right groups for protests over the man’s death. Two other men were injured in the incident and police have detained two suspects, aged 22 and 23.
An amateur video posted on social media and aired by national broadcasters showed skinheads chasing a young Arab-looking man at a major intersection in the city. Other clips showed hundreds of demonstrators shouting “We are the people!” – a slogan used by far-right supporters.
A police spokeswoman could not comment on the nationalities of those involved or on media reports that the protesters were far-right supporters who had hounded migrants. The cause of the man’s death was also not immediately clear.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert condemned Sunday’s impromptu demonstration.
“We don’t tolerate such unlawful assemblies and the hounding of people who look different or have different origins and attempts to spread hatred on the streets,” he told a regular news briefing.
“That has no place in our cities and we, as the German government, condemn it in the strongest terms,” he said. “Our basic message for Chemnitz and beyond is that there is no place in Germany for vigilante justice, for groups that want to spread hatred on the streets, for intolerance and for extremism.”
Merkel’s decision in 2015 to let in about a million migrants, many fleeing wars in the Middle East, has fueled support for far-right groups such as PEGIDA and the Alternative for Germany (AfD), now the main opposition party in parliament.
Tweeting about Sunday’s incident, AfD politician Markus Frohnmaier said: “If the state is no longer to protect citizens then people take to the streets and protect themselves. It’s as simple as that!”
Martina Renner, a lawmaker for the radical Left party, accused the far-right of trying to exploit a murder for its own political ends. “A terrible murder, the background to which is still unclear, is being instrumentalised in the most repugnant way for racist riots in Chemnitz,” she tweeted.
The violence in Chemnitz is likely to put further pressure on Merkel’s conservatives, who last week faced accusations of ignoring the rise of far-right groups in the eastern state of Saxony, where Chemnitz lies.
Police in Chemnitz are preparing for further demonstrations. They were expected to issue a further statement about Sunday’s incident later on Monday.