Anti-migrant protesters greet Merkel with shouts of ‘Get out’ in Dresden
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Anti-migrant protesters greet Merkel with shouts of ‘Get out’ in Dresden

Thousands of police secure reunification celebrations as chancellor faces ongoing criticism for handling of refugee crisis

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the prime minister for the federal state of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich, right, take part in festivities to celebrate the Day of German Unity in Dresden on October 3, 2016. (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the prime minister for the federal state of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich, right, take part in festivities to celebrate the Day of German Unity in Dresden on October 3, 2016. (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)

DRESDEN — Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was greeted on Monday by whistles and shouts of “Get out” after arriving in Dresden — birthplace of xenophobic movement Pegida — for German reunification celebrations.

The angry crowd also waved signs saying “Merkel must go” in the east German city, where some 2,600 police were deployed as a security precaution.

The German leader has been under pressure at home over her liberal refugee policy that saw an influx of nearly 900,000 migrants last year.

Dresden is hosting national celebrations to mark 26 years since the reunification of East and West Germany, with the chancellor and President Joachim Gauck in attendance.

Supporters of Pegida, the anti-immigrant, xenophobic group that began in Dresden, also gave Gauck a hostile greeting upon his arrival.

The group initially drew just a few hundred supporters to its demonstrations before gaining strength, peaking with rallies of up to 25,000 people in early 2015.

Supporters of Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident) take part in a protest against German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her policy on October 3, 2016 in Dresden, eastern Germany (AFP PHOTO / Odd ANDERSEN)
Supporters of Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident) take part in a protest against German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her policy on October 3, 2016 in Dresden, eastern Germany (AFP PHOTO / Odd ANDERSEN)

Though Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) took a drubbing in recent regional polls, she insisted on the sidelines of Monday’s celebrations that “mutual respect” and “acceptance of very divergent political opinions” are needed to meet the challenges facing Germany.

Norbert Lammert, the speaker of the German parliament, took aim at those who “whistle and shout” but who “clearly don’t have the slightest memory of the condition this city and this region were in before reunification.”

The rightwing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) harnessed a wave of anger over the refugee influx to claim around 14 percent of the vote last month in Berlin state.

Its success has mirrored the march of anti-migrant parties in France, Austria and the Netherlands as well as Republican maverick Donald Trump in the United States.

Bomb attacks hit a mosque and an international convention center in Dresden last week, with police suspecting xenophobic and nationalist motives.

Saxony, of which Dresden is the state capital, saw far-right hate crimes targeting shelters for asylum seekers rise to 106 in 2015, with another 50 recorded in the first half of this year.

In an annual report outlining progress since reunification, the government warned last week that growing xenophobia and right-wing extremism could threaten peace in eastern Germany.

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