By Joseph Nasr
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's interior ministry on Monday dismissed remarks from a populist politician who called for police to be given powers to use firearms against illegal migrants, pointing out that such shootings would be illegal.
The suggestion by Frauke Petry, leader of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, has fueled an already heated debate about Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to open Germany's doors to refugees.
"It goes without saying: no German policeman will use a firearm against people who are searching for protection in Germany," Interior Ministry spokesman Johannes Dimroth told a news conference on Monday.
"And it goes without saying that the use of firearms against people to stop an illegal border crossing is unlawful."
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, whose left-leaning Social Democrats are junior partners of Merkel's conservatives in the coalition government, said Germany's domestic intelligence agency (BfV) should monitor the AfD.
"To me, the AfD belongs in the BfV report and not on television," Gabriel told the mass-selling Bild newspaper on Sunday. "It is unbelievable that such parties may now excrete their slogans on public television."
Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said Petry, whose party has been rising in opinion polls as concern about the influx of migrants grows, had "disqualified herself" with such remarks.
The latest twist in the debate about how to stem Germany's flow of asylum seekers, which topped one million last year, illustrates the depth of the divide over the issue in a country that adopted strict laws against racism and incitement after the Nazi era.
While condemning Petry's remarks, the opposition hard-left Die Linke party also criticized Gabriel for politicizing the intelligence agency, which under German law has the final say on whether a party, a group or an individual should be monitored.
Dimroth said spying on the AfD would only be possible if there is evidence that the party was violating Germany's liberal and democratic constitution.
(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Katharine Houreld)