Clashes break out near German far-right conference

Police and protesters in Essen
Police say 'several' arrests have been made in the city of Essen [Reuters]

Police and protesters have clashed outside the annual conference of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Tens of thousands of people opposed to the AfD gathered in the city of Essen, local media reported, with police drafted in from around the country in a bid to prevent disorder.

Local police said two officers were "kicked in the head", seriously injured and taken to hospital during the violence, which began in the early hours of Saturday morning before the official demonstration had started.

The AfD's conference comes weeks after it shocked Germany's political establishment by coming second in European elections, winning 16% of all votes and beating the ruling centre-left party.

Police and protesters in Essen
Batons and tear gas were used to control crowds outside the venue [EPA]

Disorder broke out at dawn on Saturday when a group of protesters attempted to reach the Grugahalle music venue where the meeting was due to be held.

Delegates were seen being ushered towards the venue by riot police after some protesters attempted to prevent the conference from beginning by blocking the road.

Police in Essen said two of its riot officers were seriously injured.

"The officers were kicked while they were still lying on the ground," the force said.

"[They] had to be taken to hospital. [We] are currently evaluating video recordings to identify the perpetrators."

The force said a further seven officers suffered minor injuries.

Police said they had used batons and tear gas to control crowds and had made "several" arrests as of midday.

As many as 100,000 people were expected to take part in the demonstrations over the weekend, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported.

Protesters in Essen
It was the first annual meeting since AfD secured 15 seats in the European Parliament [Reuters]

The two-day AfD event was set to involve around 600 delegates and began as planned at mid-morning on Saturday.

The party's co-president Alice Weidel opened the meeting by telling delegates: "We are here and we will stay." She was re-elected as co-leader alongside Tino Chrupalla.

Counter-demonstrators marched through Essen on Friday, the eve of the conference, and more demonstrations are expected on Sunday.

Authorities in Essen had attempted to block the AfD from meeting in the city but a court ruled the party should be allowed to.

Police and protesters in Essen
Over the weekend, as many as 100,000 people are expected to take part in the demonstrations [Reuters]

The AfD, which primarily draws its support from regions in eastern Germany, came fourth in the European Union parliamentary elections in North-Rhine Westphalia, the state where Essen is located.

However, it performed ahead of expectations nationally despite a scandal-hit campaign, which included its lead candidate downplaying the crimes of the Nazis during World War Two.

AfD candidates secured 15 of Germany's 96 seats in the parliament, coming second only to the country's largest opposition party, the centre-right CDU/CSU. Chancellor Olaf Scholz's centre-left SPD came third.