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Germans Flock to Streets to Decry Far-Right Deportation Plan

(Bloomberg) -- Hundreds of thousands of Germans flooded the streets over the weekend, including in front of the national parliament, to protest against far-right extremism and the rise of the anti-immigrant AfD party.

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The protests follow the recent revelation of a meeting at which senior Alternative for Germany, or AfD, politicians and members of the main opposition Christian Democrats discussed a “re-migration” scheme that echoed Nazi policies of the 1930s.

A demonstration in Munich on Sunday drew more than 100,000 people, according to local police; organizers estimated the turnout at over 250,000. In Cologne an estimated 70,000 people took part, and a large crowd gathered in front of Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin.

Protesters in Berlin waved European Union flags and rainbow banners. Some were holding placards with slogans saying “Germany remains colorful,” “Voting AfD is so 1933” or “Ban the AfD.”

The protests followed turnout of more than 250,000 on Saturday, including Frankfurt and Hanover, where more than 70,000 people amassed. More than 50,000 people in Hamburg joined a protest on Friday.

Read more: Germany on Alert After Extremist ‘Re-Migration’ Plot Uncovered

Discussions at the meeting in November, which was exposed by investigative journalists, included a proposal for mass deportations of asylum seekers, other foreigners with the right to reside in Germany, and German nationals whom the participants deemed insufficiently “assimilated.”

“Right-wing extremists are attacking our democracy. They want to destroy our social cohesion,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in his weekly video podcast on Friday. “At a secret conference, these extremists discussed how they could kick millions of people out of our country.”

Scholz called on all citizens to take a stand and defend Germany’s open and pluralistic society against the threat of right-wing extremism.

The AfD has risen from the fringes of German politics to be second in national opinion polls, while support for Scholz’s three-party coalition has sagged. Scholz’s Social Democratic party lost 2 percentage points of public support in a weekly poll published by Bild on Sunday with AfD party holding steady at 22%. The right-wing party is projected to win three regional elections in eastern Germany in September.

The growing appeal of AfD has been driven by years of high energy and food costs, a jump in new arrivals of asylum seekers, and infighting among Scholz’s coalition.

Following the report about the deportation plans, though, a growing number of business executives have expressed concern about the rise of the far-right and warned against the threat it poses to Germany as an open society and attractive location to do business.

Read more: Infineon CEO Joins German Business Leaders to Warn of Far Right

Scholz’s government has opted for a two-pronged approach to tackle the migration challenge by speeding up deportation of rejected asylum seekers and facilitating the integration of those allowed to stay.

Parliament last week approved legislation which gives local authorities more powers to arrest and deport undocumented migrants. At the same time, the coalition parties passed a law that makes it easier for foreigners to become German citizens, or obtain dual citizenship.

(Updates with Sunday turnout from third paragraph.)

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