BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel and a senior aide on Saturday criticized pro-nationalist protesters who have loudly heckled Germany's leader during campaign appearances ahead of the Sept. 24 national election.
Merkel's rallies over recent weeks have frequently been marked by boos, whistles and other minor disruptions by groups of opponents. Someone threw two tomatoes at Merkel in Heidelberg on Tuesday and on Friday, tomatoes were thrown at her car as she arrived in Wolgast on the Baltic coast.
The incidents, particularly in formerly communist eastern Germany, come as the nationalist Alternative for Germany seeks to enter parliament for the first time.
The four-year-old party, known by its German acronym AfD, is harshly critical of Merkel and of her decision to allow in large numbers of migrants in 2015. Its strongest regional poll performances so far have been in Germany's less prosperous east.
Peter Tauber, the general secretary of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, complained in an interview Saturday with the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper that "under the banner of AfD, right-wing extremists are disrupting almost all our events." But he said people who are genuinely interested in hearing what Merkel has to say far outnumber the "self-declared patriots."
Merkel said some people are coming to her events "with the aim of disturbing other people as they listen, and that is very unpleasant."
"Nevertheless, I think that we as politicians, or I, must go to the places where people are courageous and stand up to this," she said when asked about the incidents at an appearance Saturday evening in Berlin.
"This is a kind of intolerance that it is very, very difficult," she added. "So I hope that the people who go along to listen will be heard, and not just those ... who just whistle, shout and don't want to listen."
Polls suggest that Merkel is well-placed to win a fourth four-year term.