BERLIN (AP) — A national convention by a populist German party was overshadowed Saturday by clashes between leftists and police, who temporarily detained more than 400 demonstrators in the southern city of Stuttgart.
Protesters shouted "Refugees can stay, Nazis must go!" as some 2,000 members of the Alternative for Germany party arrived at the convention center Saturday morning.
The protesters also temporarily blocked a nearby highway and burned tires on another road leading to the convention center. Some 1,000 police officers were on the scene to prevent violent clashes between nationalist party members and leftist demonstrators.
At the convention itself, party leaders tried to play down differences over the party's ideological orientation — in particular, its disputed closeness to the far-right party NPD or to the PEGIDA movement, which has been organizing weekly rallies against Muslims across Germany.
The nationalist party, also known by its acronyms AfD, has been growing in popularity and political influence as it campaigns on an anti-Islam platform.
It also advocates much tougher controls on asylum-seekers and has faced criticism for its comments, including an interview in which party leader Frauke Petry suggested that police could shoot refugees trying to enter Germany. Other prominent AfD leaders have asked for a ban on minarets and muezzins in Germany.
This weekend, the members of the three-year-old party plan to debate and approve an official party program that will likely include the statement that "Islam does not belong to Germany," the news agency dpa reported.
Petry told a cheering audience that many important questions are not being discussed openly in Germany — among them "the most dramatic demographic, economic and financial difficulties the country has faced in decades."
Germany saw over 1 million asylum-seekers enter the country last year, many of them from war-torn Syria.