Germany's anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party says a threat to expel it from a conservative alliance in the European Parliament is a campaign tactic by its domestic opponents ahead of Sunday's elections in three German states.
Beatrix von Storch, an EU lawmaker on behalf of the right-wing AfD, said that the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group's move to expel her party was strategic and not based on a majority decision.
"There was no majority for the expulsion," von Storch tweeted on Wednesday. She and her party colleague, Marcus Pretzell, are the only AfD representatives in the European Parliament.
The ECR group - the third-largest parliamentary faction and the political home of British Prime Minister David Cameron's Tories - issued a statement late Tuesday "inviting the AfD to leave," and threatening to expel them if they failed to depart before the group's next meeting on April 12.
The AfD has been a troublesome member of the ECR since its admission after the 2014 European elections and has been causing increasing discord since its anti-immigrant, right-wing turn last summer, after the ouster of its more moderate founder, Bernd Lucke, who originally kept the group more focused on worries about the eurozone.
Von Storch recently said border police should be allowed the use of firearms to stop migrants from illegally crossing into Germany, which made international headlines and may have been the tipping point for the ECR decision.
"Merkel already tried to lean on Cameron not to admit the AfD [to the ECR] when we first entered the European Parliament. Now she has done it again in an attempt to torpedo the AfD's chances of success at state elections on March 13, 2016," von Storch said in a separate statement published on Facebook.
According to the latest polls, the AfD is set to enter three state parliaments at regional elections this Sunday that will set the scene for a national poll in 2017.
In an incident Wednesday night in the city of Jena in the eastern state of Thuringia, German police reported injuries and at least one arrest when an AfD rally was dwarfed by a counterdemonstration.
A police spokeswoman told dpa that the AfD event drew about 550 supporters. Some 2,500 people gathered in opposition to the group, and police resorted to pepper spray to control some in the crowd who tried to break through barriers separating them from the AfD rally. The windshield of one police vehicle was smashed.
Two AfD supporters required hospital treatment for facial injuries when some of them were attacked. One police officer suffered minor injuries from an attacker whose attachments to the demonstrations was unknown.
One counter protester was arrested after a scuffle with AfD sympathizers.
Meanwhile Wednesday, EU lawmaker Martin Sonneborn - who is not a member of any political faction - issued a tongue-in-cheek statement that Storch and Pretzell would not be welcome among his ranks after their eviction from the ECR group.
The group of non-aligned lawmakers consists of "monarchists, anti-Semites, nationalists, communists, Nazis, frivolous politicians and [France's National Front founder] Jean-Marie Le Pen, who have no interest in their reputation being sullied" by the likes of Storch and Pretzell, Sonneborn wrote.