German Far-Right AfD Party Backs Co-Leaders Amid Violent Clashes

(Bloomberg) -- Alternative for Germany delegates put aside their internal squabbles and reelected the far-right party’s co-leaders with stronger mandates at a congress in Essen, as tens of thousands of protesters gathered outside the venue and some clashed with police.

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Among some 600 AfD lawmakers attending the gathering in the western German city, 80% supported Alice Weidel and 83% backed Tino Chrupalla. Both results indicated stronger support than the previous ballot two years ago — a vote of confidence before three regional elections in eastern Germany in September where the anti-immigrant party is leading in opinion polls.

Despite the AfD coming second in this month’s European Parliament elections with almost 16% of the vote, the two leaders had faced criticism for a campaign overshadowed by a series of scandals and missteps that led to the party being expelled from the pan-European Identity and Democracy alliance.

“There were some disturbances on the way,” Weidel said. “But although we had potential for more, this was overall a good team performance.”

Protesters had earlier tried to stop delegates from reaching the venue. Police deployed pepper spray and batons to prevent their lines being breached and there were a number of arrests.

Weidel criticized Identity and Democracy, a group of far-right parties in the EU legislature, for its decision to expel the AfD, which left the party’s caucus largely isolated.

France’s Marine Le Pen had previously announced that her National Rally movement, which is part of ID, would break ties with the AfD after its lead candidate in the EU ballot was quoted as saying that not all members of the Nazi SS paramilitary organization were criminals.

“We demand as a party a respectful interaction on level terms,” Weidel said, hitting out at European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — a member of Germany’s main opposition conservatives — and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party traces its roots to fascism.

Germany’s “national wealth should not be thrown out of the window for the von der Leyens and the Melonis of Europe,” she said. Chrupalla slammed Meloni for supporting Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s invasion.

The city of Essen had tried to prevent the AfD from holding the convention at a venue owned by the city but lost a court challenge by the party.

“The AfD has further radicalized itself over the past few months and is increasingly breaking taboos, using Nazi vocabulary,” Thomas Kufen, Essen’s mayor, told Bloomberg. “We cannot tolerate that in our buildings.”

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