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Berlin: Thousands gather for far-right AfD and counterrallies

An estimated 20,000 counter-protesters took to the streets of Berlin on Sunday to demonstrate against an AfD rally.

AfD is Germany's main opposition party

Thousands of people have gathered in Germany's capital, Berlin, to protest a far-right rally called for by the country's main opposition party.

Protesters began amassing on Sunday for a demonstration called for by the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The AfD, a far-right populist party, hoped to bring upwards of 10,000 demonstrators out for the rally, which included speeches by party leaders.

The far-right demonstrators marched from a central train station to Brandenburg Gate, where AfD party co-chairmen Alexander Gauland and Jorg Meuthen addressed an assembled crowd.

Founded in 2013, the AfD became the first far-right party to enter Germany's Bundestag after it secured more than 12 percent of the vote in national elections in September 2017.

Saturday's demonstration, however, was met with counterdemonstrations organised by anti-fascists, anti-racists, pro-refugee organisations, LGBTQI groups and other opponents of the AfD, which has focused much of its ire on refugees, migrants and Muslims at large.

The AfD called the rally in response to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's migration policy and other grievances. "Parallel (to parliament), we take to the streets and give our members and supporters the chance to actively participate," AfD organiser Guido Reil said at a press conference ahead of Sunday's event, as reported by Deutsche Welle.

"That's very important," he added. "Because we're alternative. It's a new concept."

'Stop the hate'

Stoppt den Hass ("Stop the Hate"), an umbrella of anti-AfD protest groups, said in a statement that it intends to block the AfD march from reaching its final destination.

"The AfD blames Muslims and displaced people for all evils, from poverty to sexual violence," the group said on its website.

The rise of Germany's far right has coincided with a spike in anti-Semitism and surging attacks targeting refugee accommodations throughout the country.

In early May, a senior government official, Felix Klein, accused the AfD of creating a political environment in which anti-Semitism is tolerated.

"I don't want to say the AfD is anti-Semitic, per se, but it tolerates representatives who are demanding a new policy of remembrance," Klein told news website watson.de at the time.

"They initiated this discussion about drawing a line (under the Holocaust), and that is very dangerous because it helps make anti-Semitism presentable again."

German authorities documented more than 3,500 attacks on refugees and their accommodations in 2016, and another 2,219 were recorded in 2017.

Although the AfD was initially founded as a Eurosceptic party, it was only able to break the five-percent threshold to enter the Bundestag after shifting its focus to migration and Islam.

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