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5TH LEAD German parties dismayed after far-right AfD surges into parliament By Friederike Heine, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Berlin (dpa) - Germany‘s political parties expressed dismay on Sunday at the better-than-expected election result for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is projected to take as many as 98 seats in parliament after winning 13.2 per cent of the vote.

The AfD was founded in 2013 as a eurosceptic outfit, but has turned its focus to opposition to immigration and Islam amid a nationalist backlash against Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s decision to welcome hundreds of thousands of migrants in 2015 and 2016.

A vote share of 13.2 per cent would make it the third-biggest party in parliament, giving it more support than that earned by parties pushing pro-business, environmentalist or hard-left positions.

An exit poll conducted by the research institute Infratest dimap on Sunday showed that 46 per cent of German voters are "very worried about the rising influence of Islam" in the country and 38 per cent said there are too many foreigners entering the country.

Martin Schulz - whose Social Democrats (SPD) suffered a dramatic defeat to Merkel‘s conservatives in the election, coming in a distant second - referred to the results as "particularly depressing."

"This is a turning point," he said. "It‘s clear that the decision to welcome refugees divided our society. What is a great act of humanity to some seems threatening to others. We didn‘t manage to convince people that Germany is strong enough to leave no one behind."

Merkel said she would seek "to win back voters by listening to their concerns and their fears and primarily by conducting good politics."

Schulz later blamed Merkel for the far-right surge, saying that she had run a "scandalous election campaign" devoid of meaningful debate and that the AfD had filled the vacuum.

Responding to the result, Alexander Gauland - the 76-year-old AfD lead candidate who is likely to lead its parliamentary group - said: "We‘ve made it - we will change this country."

"The fact that we are the third-strongest party [means that] this government should dress warmly. We will chase them! We will chase Merkel or whomever else! And we will take our country and our nation back," he said.

Alice Weidel, the top candidate alongside Gauland, said her party would seek to set up a parliamentary committee to investigate legal breaches by Merkel in relation to the refugee crisis.

Weidel, appointed in an effort to soften the AfD‘s far-right image, said the probe should focus on Merkel‘s decision to waive a rule that migrants must apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter or risk being deported there.

Merkel said she would not shy away from any such inquiry.

Joerg Meuthen, the AfD‘s co-leader, said during a debate on ZDF that "xenophobia and racist positions will not be accepted [in the party‘s parliamentary group]- we also simply don‘t have any."

Gauland is currently being probed for making a racist comment that some say implied he wanted to have a German-Turkish official killed.

Shortly after the first projections were announced, the SPD ruled out forming another coalition with the CDU, meaning that it will become the leader of the opposition and the AfD will become the second-largest opposition party in the Bundestag.

Shortly after the projections were broadcast, hundreds of supporters and critics of the AfD began facing off in Berlin‘s central Alexanderplatz square. The right-wing party was due to stage its election party at a nearby club.

Hundreds of people also rallied in Cologne and Frankfurt as part of a nationwide demonstration dubbed "Nationalism is not an Alternative."

The AfD‘s entry into parliament produced shockwaves, both internationally and domestically.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said that Nazis were back in the legislature. "Seventy years after the end of the war, neo-Nazis are again sitting in the Bundestag," Asselborn told dpa.

The World Jewish Congress described the AfD‘s surge in support as "abhorrent."

"It is abhorrent that the AfD party, a disgraceful, reactionary movement which recalls the worst of Germany‘s past and should be outlawed, now has the ability within the German parliament to promote its vile platform," President Ronald Lauder said.

Back home, the Central Council of Jews in Germany said the surge in support for the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) is the biggest challenge the country has faced in its post-war history.

"For the first time, a right-wing populist party with strong overlap with the right-wing extremist scene ... has been voted into the Bundestag," the group said.

"We expect our democratic forces to expose the true face of the AfD and lay bare its empty, populist promises," it added.

The AfD‘s win earned congratulations from Marine Le Pen, leader of France‘s National Front party, who tweeted "this is a new symbol of the awakening of the European nations." Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders and Italy‘s Northern League also praised the result.


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