Merkel, jeered on visit to refugees, says no to xenophobia

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 26, 2015 9:48 AM

By Hans-Edzard Busemann

HEIDENAU, Germany (Reuters) - Dozens of protesters heckled Chancellor Angela Merkel and waved placards that read "traitor" on Wednesday when she visited an eastern German town where anti-refugee protests erupted into violence at the weekend.

Merkel vowed that Germany would not tolerate xenophobia and repeated that the weekend scuffles, in which 31 police officers were hurt, were "shameful and repulsive".

"There is no tolerance for those people who question the dignity of others, no tolerance for those who are not willing to help where legal and human help is required," Merkel told reporters and local people in the town of Heidenau.

"The more people who make that clear ... the stronger we will be," she added.

Europe is struggling to cope with a flood of migrants and refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and beyond.

Germany, with the biggest economy on the continent and relatively liberal asylum laws, is set to receive the largest share, estimated at some 800,000 people this year, equivalent to almost 1 percent of the total population.

Attacks on asylum shelters now occur almost every day and politicians have warned of rising hostility toward foreigners.

Merkel said her conservative-led government would change laws next month to help ease the burden on German towns struggling to provide accommodation and other help for the new arrivals.

Earlier on Wednesday her cabinet approved plans to double funding for municipalities this year to 1 billion euros and the amount available in the longer run is likely to increase.

As Merkel met asylum seekers, local police and politicians, about 50 protesters booed, whistled and waved signs that read "Volksverraeter" (traitor), a slogan adopted by the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement earlier this year.

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"We are the mob," the protesters yelled - a reference to a comment from Merkel's deputy Sigmar Gabriel, who during a visit to Heidenau on Monday said those responsible for the weekend violence, mostly drunken far-right militants, were a "mob" who did not represent Germany.

On Tuesday, Gabriel's Social Democrats (SPD) were forced to evacuate their headquarters after receiving a bomb threat and a flood of racist emails and phone calls.

The SPD, junior partner of Merkel's conservatives in the government, linked the bomb hoax to Gabriel's visit.

(Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Gareth Jones)