BERLIN (Reuters) - At least 31 German police officers were hurt in scuffles with about 600 protesters, many hurling bottles and stones, angry about the arrival of asylum seekers in an eastern German town in the early hours of Saturday, police said.
In one of the country’s biggest demonstrations against the influx of refugees, police in Heidenau, near Dresden, used pepper spray on right-wing demonstrators who were trying to stop busloads of asylum seekers reach their accommodation.
The outbreak of violence by right-wing radicals followed a peaceful demonstration of some 1,000 people against the roughly 250 refugees, said police.
“In the end, the police brought the situation under control. The buses with the asylum seekers were led to the ... shelter,” Dresden police said in a statement.
Media reported that the violence erupted after far-right radicals, many belonging to the National Democratic Party (NPD), who are inspired by Hitler’s Nazis, took over the demonstration.
Television pictures showed people carrying banners with the slogan “Stop the asylum flood!” and shouting “Foreigners out!”.
Politicians quickly condemned the violence.
“Sometimes you don’t want to be a foreigner in our country. But neither do you want to be a German. I am ashamed of these racists in Heidenau,” deputy foreign minister Michael Roth said.
Responding to the riot, Justice Minister Heiko Maas said: “There is zero tolerance for xenophobia or racism.”
Germany is struggling to cope with a surge in the number of asylum seekers and politicians have warned about growing xenophobia amid a spate of arson attacks. In the first half of the year alone, 150 shelters were attacked.
The area around Dresden, also home to the anti-Islam and anti-immigration PEGIDA movement, has been a hotspot.
Conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the wave of asylum seekers is the biggest problem Europe faces.
Germany expects the number of asylum seekers arriving to quadruple this year to 800,000 from last year. Cities are struggling to find accommodation and want more money to cope.
Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat (SPD) said in a podcast on Saturday that it was unacceptable for a country like Germany to let ‘tent cities’ spring up and to fail to provide decent medical care.
Germany, which has relatively liberal asylum laws, is taking in more refugees than any other European country, many from war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq. More than a third come from south-eastern European countries like Albania and Serbia.
Additional reporting by Matthias Sobolewski and Reuters TV; Editing by Toby Chopra and Dominic Evans