HANOVER, Germany – The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) began on Saturday its party conference amid heightened security as protesters tried to block people from entering the building.
Protesters arrived before dawn, crowding on the roads that led to the building in Hanover, and police said they had to dissolve multiple attempted sit-ins and blockades organized by several hundred young people who had come out to demonstrate against a party that draws frequent criticism for its xenophobic views.
The city’s police said on Twitter that there had been a few small clashes between protesters and officers in which a few people had been injured and urged “all participants to remain peaceful and distance themselves from those carrying out these acts.”
The aim of the two-day AfD conference is to choose new leaders and define the anti-migrant party’s line following several crises, including co-leader Frauke Petry leaving the group and deciding to sit in the Bundestag as an independent just one day after the Sept. 24 general election.
The party had received 12.6 percent of the vote in the election, granting it 94 seats in parliament, which made it the third-largest party in Germany and the first far-right party to gain seats in the Bundestag in decades.
The day after the vote, Petry announced that she would be taking her seat as an independent as there was a lot of conflict within the group that made it unable to give its voters a proper platform.
Earlier in the year, two different important members of the AfD, including co-founder Bjorn Hocke and co-vice chairman Alexander Gauland, made comments that were condemned by many as anti-Semitic.
Hocke had in February said the Holocaust memorial in Berlin was a “memorial of shame” and that Germany had to do a 180-degree turn in its attitude to World War II, while Gauland had said that the country should be proud of German soldiers who fought in both world wars.
Gauland is currently acting as co-leader of the AfD alongside Alice Weidel.
The AfD was founded in 2013 as a right-wing euro-skeptic party, but quickly veered to the far-right, gaining notoriety for its xenophobic views during the refugee crisis in 2015 as the country opened its doors to asylum seekers.
Its followers and politicians are often accused of having racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, homophobic and nationalist views and German media has reported that dozens of their lawmakers in parliament have refused to cut ties with the extreme right, or even neo-Nazi, organizations.