Hundreds of protestors confronted German Chancellor Angela Merkel outside Dresden's Frauenkirche church Sunday, bringing Europe's most powerful leader face-to-face with criticism of her migration policies on the 26th anniversary of German reunification.
Merkel arrived in Dresden to celebrate German Unity Day, the national holiday that marks the official reunification in 1990 of West Germany and former communist East Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But the chancellor was met with blaring whistles and hundreds of angry protesters chanting "Traitor of the people!" and "Merkel must go!" as she entered the church, which was surrounded by protesters pressing against metal barricades lined with police officers.
The chants, mostly from men, continued after the holiday service, when the chancellor, President Joachim Gauck and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere exited the church.
Dresden, the capital of the eastern state of Saxony, is one of several cities in former East Germany where peaceful protests helped bring about the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The city is also the home of the anti-Islam Pegida movement where weekly protests against Merkel's migration policies have attracted as many as 40,000 people.
Several thousand supporters of the movement gathered near Dresden's main train station later on Monday to call for Merkel's resignation.
During her visit to Dresden, Merkel met with the family of a local imam whose mosque in the city was bombed by suspected right-wing extremists last week, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Twitter.
As hundreds of thousands of refugees from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan made their way across the Balkans last year, Merkel won international praise for her September 5 decision to accept and welcome refugees stranded in Hungary by border closures.
But pockets of German dissent toward Merkel have grown in recent months over her coalition government's liberal migration policy and the repetition of her "We can do it" motto, seen by some as politically naive in the face of concerns about sufficient funding and infrastructure for the migrant influx.
Flagging support for Merkel's refugee policies played a key role in last month's local elections in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, delivering dismal results for her Christian Democrats (CDU) and double-digit success for the Alternative for Germany party.
In recent weeks, Merkel and fellow CDU politicians have taken a more hawkish stance toward migration and integration policies, with de Maiziere proposing a partial burqa ban in August and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble calling for a German form of Islam in a weekend editorial.
But in remarks published by a Saxon newspaper on Saturday, ahead of the German Unity Day celebration, Merkel denied that she had changed her stance on migration.
"I don't see a change in course, but rather coherent work over many, many months," Merkel told Saechsische Zeitung newspaper. "I have not changed my policy, but rather made policy."
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was due to celebrate Unity Day at the German embassy in Bratislava.
"Today, 27 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we have to acknowledge that the world is experiencing a level of disorder not seen for a long time," Steinmeier said in a statement.
"The denseness and intensity of the crises and conflicts raging around us is greater than anyone would have predicted in 1989. ... At this time when peace is not guaranteed, Germany must create impetus for shaping the world," he said.
Saturday, October 1, 2016 - 15:24