Protests against German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose long-stellar approval ratings have taken a dive amid the refugee crisis, grows as hundreds of far-right protesters marched through Berlin Saturday night calling for her removal from office.
Police accompanied the protest through the German capital's former Jewish district, at one point forcibly removing a blockade staged by far-left counter-demonstrators. The protest began at the city's main train station, where speakers criticized the government's decision to allow large numbers of migrants into Germany. A crowd of up to 500 people chanted slogans such as "Merkel must go!"
After being relegated to third place behind an anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the regional election in her constituency in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and then in Berlin, Merkel has suffered from low popularity, cutting a lonely figure in her struggle for resisting pressure to change her open-door refugee policy.
Germany society has been polarized by the influx of some 890,000 asylum seekers last year with another 213,000 applying in the first nine months of 2016. Although many fewer migrants have entered the country in 2016, parties on the far right have called for an immigration cap.
The Bavarian sister-party of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats is positioning itself firmly against the chancellor's open-door policy toward refugees in a bid to win voters angered by the influx of migrants. The Christian Social Union (CSU) has always been more conservative than Merkel's party, which is active in the rest of Germany outside Bavaria. The so-called Union bloc comprising the two parties is expected to lose ground to the surging nationalist party AfD in next year's national election.
At a meeting Saturday in Munich, CSU party delegates unanimously passed a new program that rejects multiculturalism and demands nation-wide referendums of the kind seen in Switzerland. The program also reinforces the CSU's demand for an annual cap on the number of refugees Germany takes in. Merkel has rejected a fixed cap on asylum-seekers as legally and practically impossible.
In a huge blow to Merkel's open-door refugee policy, The German Interior Ministry wants to stop migrants ever reaching Europe's Mediterranean coast by picking them up at sea and returning them to Africa, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported Sunday. In what would be a huge shift for a country with one of the most generous asylum policies, the ministry says the European Union should adopt an Australian-style system under which migrants intercepted at sea are sent for processing at camps in third countries. Headed by Thomas de Maiziere, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, the ministry's proposal calls for migrants picked up in the Mediterranean - most of whom set off from conflict-torn Libya - to be sent to Tunisia, Egypt or other north African states to apply for asylum from there.
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