Germany’s unruly anti-immigration AfD to pick election team

Co-leader Frauke Petry, right, talks to board member Alexander Gauland at the party convention of Germany's nationalist party AfD (Alternative for Germany) in Cologne, Germany, on Saturday. (AP)
Updated 23 April 2017

Germany’s unruly anti-immigration AfD to pick election team

COLOGNE, GERMANY: Germany’s anti-immigration AfD will wrap up a fractious party congress Sunday by choosing the team to lead it into a September general election, after it dramatically sidelined its most prominent personality.
The Alternative for Germany’s telegenic co-leader Frauke Petry had already announced last week she would not join the campaign squad, after weeks of bitter infighting between populists and more radical, hard-right forces.
Petry, a 41-year-old former chemist pregnant with her fifth child, was handed a further setback Saturday at the gathering in the western city of Cologne, which drew tens of thousands of protesters.
The around 600 delegates rejected her call to adopt a more moderate-sounding “Realpolitik” program intended to shut down the party’s more extremist voices, including those who have attacked Germany’s Holocaust remembrance culture.
Top-selling daily Bild called delegates’ decision to not even debate her motion a “crushing blow” for Petry, who expressed bitterness on the sidelines of the meeting.
“I will step aside during the campaign, as that’s what the party congress apparently wants,” Petry said, while pledging to remain party co-chairwoman “for now.”
“As long as the party is not willing to say in what direction it wants to go, a team will have to lead the campaign that can deal with this indecision better than I can.”
The AfD has seen its support plummet as the refugee influx to Germany has slowed in recent months after Chancellor Angela Merkel let in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015.

The party, now represented in 11 of Germany’s 16 states, aims to sign off on a program that will pave the way for it to enter the national parliament for the first time in its four-year history.
It includes calls to stop family unification of refugees already in Germany, strip immigrants convicted of “significant crimes” of their German passports, and declare Islam incompatible with German culture.
But commentators said the power struggle further undermined its bid to surf the momentum of France’s far-right frontrunner Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump in the United States and the Brexit movement in Britain to electoral success in the September 24 vote.
Spiegel Online journalist Severin Weiland said Saturday it was now even “doubtful” whether the AfD would clear the five-percent hurdle to representation in the national parliament.
“Frauke Petry was the public face of this party,” he said.
Petry’s chief rival, 76-year-old Alexander Gauland, a hard-line defector from Merkel’s CDU, had urged delegates to defeat her Realpolitik motion, calling it “divisive.”
But even Gauland, who was widely mentioned as a candidate to join the AfD campaign team, expressed regret that Petry, who is very popular with the party’s base, will not be front-and-center on the campaign trail.
Another likely member of the election team is 38-year-old economist and former investment banker Alice Weidel who has railed against “an army of millions of uneducated migrants from the Middle East and Africa who expect a free ride” in Germany.
The daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung said that the dispute was less about the political goals of the party, the most successful right-wing populist outfit in Germany’s post-war history, than personal ambition.
“The AfD is heading for a showdown that could end up breaking it apart,” it said.

At least three dead in multiple shooting in Utrecht, police hunting Turkish-born man

Updated 2 min 2 sec ago

At least three dead in multiple shooting in Utrecht, police hunting Turkish-born man

  • Police are not ruling out terrorism as a possible motive
  • ‘Threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province’

DUBAI: At least three people have been killed and nine other injured in a shooting incident in Utrecht, in The Netherlands on Monday morning.

Dutch security forces were hunting for a 37-year-old Turkish man in connection with the incident, in what authorities said appeared to be a terrorist attack. The city's mayor confirmed the death of three people on Monday afternoon.

"At this stage, we can confirm three deaths and nine wounded, three of them seriously," Utrecht Mayor Jan van Zanen said in a video statement on Twitter.

"We are working on the principle that it was a terrorist attack," he added.

Dozens of armed police plus canine units later surrounded a building a few hundred metres away, an AFP reporter at the scene said, but it was not clear if the gunman was inside.

Police said they believed a red Renault Clio had been carjacked around the time of the shooting and had been found abandoned later.

The Utrecht municipality said it advised "everyone to stay indoors until more is known, new incidents are not excluded," but this was withdrawn at around 4:30pm local time. The local hospital said it had set up a crisis centre. Tram traffic in the area was halted.

Authorities raised the terrorism threat to its highest level in Utrecht province, schools were told to shut their doors and paramilitary police increased security at airports and other vital infrastructure, and also at mosques.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte convened crisis talks, saying he was deeply concerned about the incident.

Utrecht Police tweeted an image of a man named Gökmen Tanis, asking people for information on him in connection with the incident — but warned members of the public not to approach him.

The main counterterrorism unit in The Netherlands, the  National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), told the Dutch public broadcaster that the incident had all the characteristics of a terrorist attack.

Counter-terrorism forces have surrounded a building where the gunman may be located, local broadcaster NOS News reported.

There was gunfire at several locations in the city, the Dutch national counter-terrorism chief said.

“Shooting took place this morning at several locations in Utrecht,” Dutch anti-terror coordinator Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg told a news conference in The Hague. “A major police operation is under way to arrest the gunman.”

Aalbersberg said in a statement that the “threat level has gone to 5, exclusively for the Utrecht province,” referring to the highest level. 

“The culprit is still on the run. A terror motive cannot be excluded,” he said in a Twitter message. He called on citizens to closely follow the indications of the local police. 

Police spokesman Bernhard Jens did not exclude more people might be involved. 

“We want to try to catch the person responsible as soon as possible,” Jens said.

A hotline to address queries about the situation. The Netherlands has one of the strictest gun laws and ownership is limited to law enforcement, hunters and target shooters.

Local media reports have said counter-terrorism police were seen at the scene.

“Shooting incident... Several injured people reported. Assistance started,” the Utrecht police Twitter account said. “It is a shooting incident in a tram. Several trauma helicopters have been deployed to provide help.”

The 24 Oktoberplein is a busy Utrecht traffic junction, with a tram stop. Tram traffic was temporarily stopped due to the incident, but the trams are currently running again between Zuilenstein, Nieuwegein and IJsselstein.

(With AFP and Reuters)