BERLIN (Reuters) - Senior German politicians warned on Tuesday that basic freedoms were threatened after a mayor in an eastern town resigned saying local authorities had failed to stop a far-right protest outside his house.
Markus Nierth, the elected and unpaid mayor of Troeglitz, said on Monday he feared for his family’s safety after the National Democratic Party (NPD) announced the rally against his plans to house asylum seekers.
“If an elected mayor does not feel protected from a brown mob in our democracy, all alarm bells must be ringing,” Greens co-leader Cem Oezdemir told the Berliner Zeitung daily, using a phrase referring to the brown uniforms of Hitler’s followers.
The incident has underlined concerns that the far-right could gain support amid a debate on rising numbers of asylum seekers in Germany. Numbers increased by about 60 percent last year, according to the Federal Statistics Office.
Nierth wrote on Facebook he was “stunned and disappointed” that civil servants in the district administrator’s office had decided against banning the march, and had not consulted him.
“It’s about my children and my wife fearing the arrival of truck loads of neo-Nazis ... their kind, peaceful faces looking through our windows and ... letting us hear their loving slogans,” Nierth wrote on Facebook.
Polls show most Germans think Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is paying too little attention to worries about immigration.
The NPD had already held several marches to protest against Nierth’s plans for Troeglitz, in Saxony Anhalt, to take in about 40 asylum seekers, similar to plans in many other towns.
Justice Minister Heiko Maas, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD) who share power with Merkel’s conservatives, said it was a “tragedy for our democracy” when an elected mayor had to resign because of such hostility.
Many Germans were embarrassed by the anti-immigrant PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) group in Dresden which has held demonstrations, feeding off fears about being overrun by Muslims.
Although its popularity has waned and counter demonstrations took place across Germany, PEG IDA provided a platform for anti-immigrant sentiment and Germany has seen a large number of protests against refugees from southern Bavaria to Berlin.
“If people like this mayor quit, it’s worse than a PEG IDA demonstration with ugly slogans. There was and is resistance to PEG IDA. The mayor was left alone,” wrote the Sueddeutsche daily.
Anent Kahn, head of the anti-racism Amadeus Antonio Foundation, said Niter’s resignation was a “catastrophe for local democracy”.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Stephen Brown and Andrew Heavens