Two police officers were injured in clashes with protesters on Saturday as the far-Right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party held its conference in the city of Cologne.
The meeting took place under intense security. A no-fly zone was ordered over the city centre and 4,000 police officers were deployed on the streets.
Several couples had to be escorted by police through the streets so they could attend their own weddings at the city’s registry office.
Inside the conference, an ongoing struggle for control of the AfD broke out into open hostility. Delegates clashed over the party’s future direction following its leader, Frauke Petry’s shock announcement she would not stand as its candidate for chancellor in September’s elections.
Some 10,000 protestors took to the streets of Cologne to demonstrate against the AfD’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies. But the numbers were well short of predictions of up to 50,000, and there were only isolated cases of violence.
One police officer was injured when he went to the aid of an AfD delegate who was being beaten by a masked protestor with a wooden stick.
A second officer was injured when he was attacked by prostestors with a sharp object.
“The situation has calmed. We’re hoping for things to stay peaceful today,” Jürgen Mathies, the city police chief, said.
“So far it has been quieter than expected, but we don’t know how many potential troublemakers are in the city,” a police source told Bild newspaper. “We’re on alert for an incident right up till Sunday night.”
The AfD conference is scheduled to last the entire weekend. Much of the city centre was on lockdown on Saturday, with shops and restaurants closed amid fears the protests could turn violent.
Inside the Maritim Hotel where the conference was taking place, Mrs Petry suffered a defeat in her bitter power struggle with rivals over the future of the party.
Mrs Petry tabled a motion calling for the AfD to abandon its populist path and transform itself into a serious party of opposition.
The proposal was heavily defeated, and Mrs Petry had to listen as one of her leading rivals, Jörg Meuthen, openly rubbished it in his speech.
“I believe the party has made a mistake, and I will continue to work for the the development of the Party in the coming months until the elections,” Mrs Petry said after the vote.
She announced last week she she will not run as the party’s chancellor candidate or lead its campaign in September’s elections.
But she said on Saturday she intended to stay on as party leader. Her rivals will now have to decide whether to risk trying to force her out, or continue in uneasy cohabitation.
They could propose an alternative chancellor candidate at the conference, or choose to leave the position unfilled.
Mrs Petey is the AfD’s most popular figure by some margin, and polls released on Saturday suggest support for the party’s could drop without her.
Support has already fallen from a high of 16 per cent last September to around 9 per cent amid the infighting.
One rival Mrs Petry did not have to face is Björn Höcke, the party’s most controversial figure, who earlier this year called for Germany to stop feeling remorse over its Nazi past.
He was unable to attend the conference after the hotel hosting it said he would not be allowed to enter the building.