German far-right, leftist protesters clash after fatal multi-ethnic dispute

Clashes erupted between far-right protesters and counter demonstrators in the eastern German city of Chemnitz on Monday in the wake of a fatal stabbing that authorities blamed on two men from Syria and Iraq.

Country will not tolerate 'vigilante justice,' says Merkel spokesperson

Far-right protesters light flares while facing police as they gather in Chemnitz, eastern Germany, after a 35-year-old German national died in hospital due to what police called a 'dispute between several people of different nationalities.' (Filip Singer/EPA-EFE)

Clashes erupted between far-right protesters and counter demonstrators in the eastern German city of Chemnitz on Monday in the wake of a fatal stabbing that authorities blamed on two men from Syria and Iraq.

Police said they brought in water cannons after fireworks were thrown from both sides, causing injuries. 

About 1,000 left-wing protesters yelled slogans like "Nazis out" and "There's no right to Nazi propaganda," at a similar-size group of right-wing demonstrators. They retorted with "We are louder, we are more" and "Lying press."

About 1,000 counter demonstrators reacted Monday to the far-right protesters. (Filip Singer/EPA-EFE)

State and local officials appealed for calm and Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesperson said Germany would not tolerate "vigilante justice."

The unrest reflected a growing schism in German society after Merkel's government allowed about one million asylum seekers to enter the country in 2015, triggering a shift to the right in German politics.

"The scenes of people going after those who look like foreigners scare us. We want to show that Chemnitz has another side that is cosmopolitan and opposes xenophobia," Tim Detzner, the head of the radical Left party in Chemnitz, told one of the demonstrations.

Tensions run high

Police in Saxony said on Twitter that the demonstration had ended and they were accompanying participants to the train station.

Tensions were running high after some 800 right-wing demonstrators — including about 50 that police described as ready to commit violence — had taken to the streets on Sunday after the stabbing, which police said occurred after a row.

Local prosecutors said they had arrested two suspects, a 22-year-old Syrian man and a 21-year-old Iraqi man.

Television news channels broadcast amateur footage of skinheads chasing a foreign-looking man through the streets. Police said they were still investigating reports of injury filed by Syrian, Afghan and Bulgarian people, and at least four demonstrators had been charged.

A protester gestures towards police in riot gear who had formed a barrier aimed at keeping left-wing and far-right demonstrators apart. (Filip Singer/EPA-EFE)

"We don't tolerate such unlawful assemblies and the hounding of people who look different or have different origins, and attempts to spread hatred on the streets,"​ Merkel's spokesperson​ Steffen Seibert told a news briefing.

"That has no place in our cities and we, as the German government, condemn it in the strongest terms. Our basic message for Chemnitz and beyond is that there is no place in Germany for vigilante justice, for groups that want to spread hatred on the streets, for intolerance and for extremism."

'Misinformation and lies'

Roland Woeller, interior minister of the state of Saxony, which includes Chemnitz, said authorities would not allow "anarchists" to run rampant. He urged all sides to remain calm and rely on official police information for updates, saying that "misinformation and lies" were circulating in social media.

The arrival of huge numbers of migrants from the Middle East three years ago has fuelled support for far-right groups such as PEGIDA and the Alternative for Germany, now the main opposition party in parliament.

Tweeting about Sunday's incident, AfD politician Markus Frohnmaier said: "If the state is no longer to protect citizens then people take to the streets and protect themselves. It's as simple as that!"

People lay flowers and candles at the spot where a German man was stabbed and later died of his injuries following an altercation in the early hours of Sunday in Chemnitz. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Martina Renner, a lawmaker for the radical Left party, accused the far-right of trying to exploit a murder for its own political ends.

"A terrible murder, the background to which is still unclear, is being instrumentalized in the most repugnant way for racist riots in Chemnitz," she tweeted.

The violence in Chemnitz is likely to put further pressure on Merkel's conservatives, who last week faced accusations of ignoring the rise of far-right groups in the eastern state of Saxony, where Chemnitz lies.

With files from The Associated Press