German nationalist leader rejects criticism of rhetoric
BERLIN (AP) — The leader of a rising German nationalist party on Monday rejected accusations that her rhetoric has helped stoke anti-migrant hatred, a day after a fire at a former hotel being turned into a refugee home.
Frauke Petry also said her party offers a "very necessary" option for disgruntled conservatives ahead of regional elections next month.
Her Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party is expected to enter three state parliaments in elections on March 13 — benefiting from concerns over the influx of more than a million migrants into Germany over the past year and Chancellor Angela Merkel's struggles to secure a European solution to the problem.
The party advocates much tougher controls on asylum seekers and has faced criticism over various comments made, including an interview last month in which Petry herself suggested police could shoot refugees trying to enter Germany.
On Monday, Alexander Ahrens, the mayor of the town of Bautzen, where the former hotel burned over the weekend as onlookers celebrated, accused Petry of "spiritual arson"— a phrase often used in Germany to denounce incitement.
"To say something like that about a political opponent is cheap polemics," Petry told foreign reporters in Berlin. She also dismissed as "laughable" suggestions from Germany's center-left Social Democrats that the domestic intelligence agency should monitor AfD.
The Bautzen fire came days after a screaming mob blocked a bus carrying asylum-seekers outside a refugee home elsewhere in the eastern state of Saxony, where Petry leads the local AfD branch.
Petry said it was "definitely the wrong place" for a protest, which should be directed against authorities. She said the party would examine whether any member was involved in organizing it and would draw "consequences" if anyone was found to have been.
Merkel has stuck to her open-door policy for refugees and her rejection of unilateral measures such as a cap on refugees despite mounting tensions in her own conservative bloc.
Petry accused Merkel of putting herself above the law in the migrant crisis and of being responsible for Europe's disarray.
"What she did was issue a political invitation to a great many people in the world to set off for Europe, with catastrophic consequences for the structure of a Europe of freedom," she said.