April 4, 2015 / 3:18 PM / 2 years ago

Police investigate suspected arson at asylum seekers' home in Germany

HALLE, Germany (Reuters) - German police have opened an investigation into a suspected arson attack on a house in eastern Germany earmarked for asylum seekers, throwing the spotlight on a town where the mayor quit last month after a far-right protest was held outside his home.

The roof of the house that was due to be used by asylum seekers in the town of Troeglitz was destroyed in the fire that broke out in the early morning but two Germans - currently the only people who live in the building - were able to escape unscathed, police said.

Joerg Wilkmann, senior state prosecutor in the eastern German city of Halle, said evidence so far suggested it was a case of “serious arson” and he could not rule out the possibility of attempted homicide.

In March the mayor of Troeglitz, Markus Nierth, resigned saying he feared for his family’s safety after authorities failed to stop a demonstration outside his house by the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) against his plans to provide accommodation for asylum seekers.

The number of asylum seekers in German surged by about 60 percent last year, according to the statistics office, and the number of foreigners registered by the end of 2014 was 8.2 million.

Concerns about immigration have come to the fore in Germany in recent months, with the grassroots movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) attracting large crowds at its rallies in eastern Germany early this year, although they have since decreased.

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel condemned the suspected arson attack, saying xenophobia had no place in Germany and refugees belonged in the country.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas said: “People who set refugees’ homes on fire are cowardly and abominable,” according to an article due to be published in German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Stephen Powell

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