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Germany’s far-right AfD firms up election strategy, vows to fight virus rules

Party finalizes manifesto with vote to reject mask-wearing, ‘mania for locking down,’ as it seeks to capitalize on anger over pandemic restrictions

Delegates vote on an amendment on the second day of the congress of far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD - Alternative fuer Deutschland) party in Dresden, eastern Germany, on April 11, 2021. (Jens Schlueter/ AFP)
Delegates vote on an amendment on the second day of the congress of far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD - Alternative fuer Deutschland) party in Dresden, eastern Germany, on April 11, 2021. (Jens Schlueter/ AFP)

DRESDEN — Germany’s far-right AfD party vowed to campaign for an end to coronavirus restrictions, a tougher line on migration, and an exit from the European Union, as it finalized its election manifesto on Sunday.

At a congress in Dresden to firm up its campaign for elections on September 26, the anti-Islam, anti-immigration party voted to reject compulsory mask-wearing, which, it said, was “based on numbers that are not meaningful.”

The AfD has long sought to capitalize on anger over virus measures in Germany, with members joining anti-vaxxers and “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers) at various demonstrations.

The party had already voted on Saturday to demand an end to coronavirus shutdown measures, complaining of a “politics of fear.”

AfD co-leader Joerg Meuthen vowed to dispel “these orgies of bans, these jailings, this mania for locking down.”

With Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders expected to tighten infection control measures further this week, the far-right unveiled its election slogan — “Germany. But normal” — which at least in part targets coronavirus restrictions.

Police officers try to push back protesters on a blocked a road between the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag building, home of the German federal parliament, as people attend a protest rally against virus restrictions in Berlin, Germany, November 18, 2020. (Fabian Sommer/dpa via AP)

Party members also voted for the manifesto to include a call for Germany to leave the European Union, as well as a complete ban on refugees being joined by family members.

The party agreed on Sunday to declare itself opposed to “any family reunification for refugees,” revising previous wording that had called for such reunions to be allowed only under exceptional circumstances.

Starting out as an anti-euro outfit in 2013, the AfD capitalized on public anger over Merkel’s 2015 decision to allow in a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-torn countries, such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The party caused a sensation in Germany’s last election in 2017 when it secured almost 13 percent of the vote, entering parliament for the first time as the largest opposition party.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the parliament Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, December 16, 2020. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

But it has lost support as Germany reels from the COVID-19 pandemic, and has lately been plagued by internal divisions and accusations of ties to neo-Nazi fringe groups.

The latest surveys have the party polling at between 10% and 12%, with Merkel’s CDU/CSU at around 27%, and the surging Greens not far behind.

September’s election will be the first in 16 years not to feature Merkel, who is bowing out of politics.

Against a backdrop of infighting between the hard right and a more moderate wing, motions calling for the AfD to elect its top election candidates were withdrawn.

The decision is now expected to be made later by a vote among all party members.

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