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Protests, power struggle mar German populist party's congress

Protests, power struggle mar German populist party's congress

Support for the party, which attacks Chancellor Angela Merkel for having allowed more than a million migrants into Germany in the last two years, has tumbled in recent months.

Green Party leader, Cem Ozdemir, and the state premier of North-Rhine Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft, are scheduled to speak at one of the anti-AfD rallies this Saturday.

Even as the gathering began, singing and chanting protesters attempted to stop delegates from entering the congress venue, a hotel in the city centre.

Members needed to decide "whether and how the AfD can become a realistic option to take power for voters by 2021 so we don't permanently leave the government to the established parties", she said.

Two police officers were reported injured during tumults between AfD protesters and the party's supporters.

It includes a call to declare Islam incompatible with German culture and plans to strip immigrants convicted of serious crimes of their German passports.

German populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) rejected a proposal to go "mainstream" Saturday at the party's convention in Cologne.

Petry, the main face of the party, had earlier failed to get delegates to debate a motion on seeking what was described as a more pragmatic political path.

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Nationalist politician Frauke Petry arrives for the second day of a party convention of the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) in Cologne, Germany, Sunday, April 23, 2017.

In a firebrand speech, economics professor Meuthen said Germans were increasingly "few and far between" and that without action now, "the irrevocable change of our homeland into a Muslim-dominated country is a mathematical certainty".

But delegates stressed the need to use the congress in Cologne to signal the AfD was united ahead of the elections after months of bitter infighting that have helped drag down its poll ratings by about one-third to 8-10 percent.

Ms Petry has upset many within the party by introducing a motion in which she said the AfD should aim to join coalitions in future and govern, instead of being a "fundamental" opposition party that only made provocative statements.

"Everybody is still in good spirits and there's a relaxed party mood above and below deck but it's nearly impossible for the huge ship to make the necessary change in direction anymore", Meuthen said.

Germans are expected to vote on September 24 in a general election.

Petry, whose rejected motion included language assailing party leaders she accused of hewing to a "permanent opposition", had already announced Wednesday that she wouldn't be a top contender for parliament following sustained criticism from rivals. The news left the party reeling and set the stage for a showdown between populist and more radical, hard-right forces.

The less well known Ms Weidel is seen as a relative moderate within the AfD, and appears to have been nominated to placate party members alarmed by the choice of Mr Gauland.


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