ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Approximately 150,000 gather in Berlin for latest protest against German far right

Recent polls show ultranationalist Alternative for Germany party leading in three states

People hold hands in front of Germany's parliament Reichstag at a demonstration against the AfD party and right-wing extremism in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
People hold hands in front of Germany's parliament Reichstag at a demonstration against the AfD party and right-wing extremism in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

BERLIN, Germany (AP) — At least 150,000 people gathered in front of the German national parliament Saturday afternoon to protest against the far right, the latest in a string of large weekend demonstrations across Germany.

The pro-democracy demonstrations started three weeks ago after the investigative journalists’ group Correctiv published an article saying that right-wing extremists had recently met to discuss deporting millions of immigrants, including some with German citizenship. Some members of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, were present at the meeting.

Saturday’s protest drew more participants than organizers expected, despite intermittent rain showers in the German capital. Police said that as of mid-afternoon on Saturday, approximately 150,000 people were in attendance. Similar protests against the far right in other German cities, including the southern city of Freiburg and the western city of Hannover, also drew thousands of attendees on Saturday.

Under the slogan “We are the Firewall” — a reference to the longstanding taboo against collaborating with the far right in German politics — protesters turned the space next to the Bundestag, or national parliament, into a sea of signs, flags and umbrellas.

People traveled from across Germany to attend Saturday’s protest, saying they felt it was important to be there in order to show their opposition to racism and caution against repeating history.

“We absolutely must not allow the stories that we experienced in 1930 or even back in the 1920s to happen again… We must do everything we can to prevent that,” said Jonas Schmidt, who came from the western port city of Bremen. “That’s why I’m here.”

People protest with soap bubbles in front of Germany’s parliament Reichstag at a demonstration against the AfD party and right-wing extremism in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Kathrin Zauter, another protester, called the strong attendance “really encouraging.”

“This encourages everyone and shows that we are more — we are many,” she said.

The AfD was founded as a eurosceptic party in 2013 and first entered the Bundestag in 2017. Recent polling put the party in second place nationally with support above 20 percent, far above the 10.3% of the vote it won during the last federal election in 2021.

However, a recent poll by Forsa showed that backing for the AfD dropped below 20% for the first time since July, with voters citing nationwide demonstrations against the far-right as the most important issue. According to the poll, the AfD remains in second place behind the main opposition conservatives at 32%, while Scholz’s center-left Social Democrats polled third at 15%.

A protestor wears a dog mask in front of Germany’s parliament Reichstag during a demonstration against the AfD party and right-wing extremism in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Nevertheless, polls show that AfD is still the top party in eastern Germany, including in the states of Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia, which are scheduled to hold elections this fall.

The demonstration Saturday was the latest in a string of similar gatherings across the country, many of which have drawn far more participants than organizers expected. In both Hamburg and Munich late last month, protests had to be ended early due to safety concerns with packing too many people into small spaces.

Although Germany has seen other protests against the far right in past years, the size and scope of the recent demonstrations — not just in major cities, but also in dozens of smaller cities across the country — are notable.

A sign reading ‘Be a human’ is seen in front of Germany’s parliament Reichstag during a demonstration against the AfD party and right-wing extremism in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz praised the protests, writing in a Saturday post on the social media platform X that citizens’ presence at the gatherings is “a strong sign for democracy and our constitution.”

“In small and big cities across the country, citizens are coming together to demonstrate against forgetting, against hate and incitement,” he added.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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