250,000 Germans turn out in mass protests of far-right AfD party

Protesters gathered across Germany for demonstrations against the far-right 'Alternative fuer Deutschland' (lit. Alternative for Germany) AfD party. The protests were ignited by a report that AfD met with extremists in Potsdam to discuss the mass expulsion of migrants. EPA-EFE/LUKAS BARTH-TUTTAS

Jan. 20 (UPI) -- Mass protests erupted across Germany over the weekend, with an estimated 250,000 people demonstrating against the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

The protests were ignited by a Jan. 10 report from investigative outlet Correctiv that revealed AfD representatives met with extremist groups in Potsdam in November. Among the meeting topics was the mass expulsion or "remigration" of foreigners and Germans with migrant backgrounds.

The report caused an uproar in Germany, where tensions are rising over the popularity of the AfD. The far-right party has taken advantage of public discontent with the current government, as the economy declined last year by 0.3% and inflation went up by 5.9 %, the second highest since German reunification.

Nationally, AfD is polling at 22% support, while Chancellor Olaf Sholz's Socialist Democratic Party only has 13% support.

But Saturday's protesters were clear they did not support AfD's "remigration" vision. One of the largest rallies took place in Hanover, with police reports suggesting there were 35,000 participants. Another 35,000 protesters gathered in Frankfurt, and 30,000 appeared in Dortmund.

Authorities had to halt a rally in Hamburg for safety reasons, as more people had turned out than expected. Estimates suggest 50,000 to 80,000 people had attended.

Scholz said Friday he welcomed the protests and deemed "remigration" "an attack on our democracy."

"I say it in absolutely clarity and severity: Right-wing extremists are attacking our democracy," he said.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser equated the Potsdam meeting to the "the horrible Wannsee conference" of 1942, where Nazis convened to plan the extermination of European Jews.

The AfD confirmed to presence of its members at the Potsdam meeting, but has denied taking on "remigration" as part of its agenda.

More anti-AfD demonstrations, including a large one in the capital of Berlin, are scheduled for Sunday.