About 300 people held a counter protest near a performance venue in the Thuringia town of Themar where a neo-Nazi concert took place during the weekend. A rock festival organized by right-wing extremist groups in Germany attracted more people than expected over the weekend, as activists lamented the lackluster attempts to halt the gathering.
More than 1,900 people were at the festival site in the town of Themar late Saturday, the second day of the event, according to police. Others were on their way there. The state domestic intelligence agency had previously estimated that around 1,500 people would attend the event in central Germany. By late Saturday, police had recorded 55 crimes and petty offences, including 32 instances of the use of unconstitutional symbols, which include the swastika or phrases such as "Sieg heil."
Police said many festivalgoers were seen giving the Hitler salute, which is also a criminal offence in Germany.
Local left-wing activist Thomas Jakob said he was disappointed that more did not turn up for the counter protest, particularly from the town itself.
"You have to be happy that people headed out, to show the other side of Themar," said Hubert Boese, mayor of the town, which was home to Germany's largest right-wing extremist rock festival last year. He added that he was "thankful for each and every one," who came out for the counter protest.
Many opponents were also disappointed that efforts to stop the event in the courts had been unsuccessful. In fact, courts cleared the way for the gathering to go ahead and walked back a strict ban on alcohol, meaning hard-right revelers could start drinking beer after 8 pm.
Right-wing extremist rock concerts are often registered as 'political gatherings' in Germany, meaning they are protected by the constitutional right to assemble.
Germany has been facing a rising challenge from the far right. Support for Germany's far-right movement has grown by 80 percent to 18,000 members over the past two years, larger than earlier estimated.
Starting as a Eurosceptic party just 5 years ago, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party got a boost in 2015 after Chancellor Angela Merkel announced an open-door policy to refugees fleeing places like Syria and Afghanistan. The surge in foreigners stoked public concerns, which helped the AfD enter the national parliament last year as the main opposition party.
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