German officials probe possible incitement at far-right march
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German officials probe possible incitement at far-right march

Authorities checking whether neo-Nazis committed criminal offenses during rally in eastern town of Koethen

People hold national flags during a march organized by the right-wing populist 'Pro Chemnitz' movement on September 7, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / John MACDOUGALL)
People hold national flags during a march organized by the right-wing populist 'Pro Chemnitz' movement on September 7, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / John MACDOUGALL)

BERLIN — German officials said Monday they’re examining whether neo-Nazis committed criminal offenses during a march in the eastern town of Koethen after a local man died following a dispute with two Afghan men.

Some 2,500 people took part in the march late Sunday. Officials say the man had severe chronic heart disease and an autopsy showed he didn’t suffer fatal injuries from the fight.

About 400-500 people in the crowd belonged to far-right groups, regional officials said, and they’re reviewing whether offenses such as incitement were committed. One video showed a speaker talking about “racial war against the German people” and another showed people chanting “national socialism now.”

The incident in Koethen came two weeks after a German man was fatally stabbed in the eastern city of Chemnitz on August 26. An Iraqi and a Syrian have been arrested on manslaughter charges in that case.

The stabbing led to days of anti-migrant rallies during which far-right protesters clashed with police and counter-protesters. Masked men also attack a Jewish restaurant in the city.

Far-right demonstrators light flares in Chemnitz, eastern Germany, on September 7, 2018, after a 35-year-old German was stabbed to death in August 2018. (AFP/Odd Andersen)

The unrest in Chemnitz has focused fresh attention on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision three years ago to allow hundreds of thousands of refugees into the country, straining its resources and hospitality beyond what some Germans considered acceptable.

Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert on Monday praised the measured reaction of police and many locals in Koethen — but said “it must concern and appall us that at the end of the day in Koethen, as a video shows, there were openly Nazi chants.”

Holger Stahlknecht, the interior minister of Saxony-Anhalt state, where Koethen is located, said hundreds of police officers were on stand-by for possible further protests and called on people to refrain from violence.

The two Afghans involved in the dispute are currently in custody. Officials said both came to Germany as unaccompanied minors a couple of years ago.

One of them had been given residency status while the other man’s asylum plea was rejected. His deportation was delayed pending the results of another ongoing investigation in which he had been suspected of bodily harm.

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