German city mourns police officer killed in crime that stokes EU election divisions


The German city of Mannheim is in mourning.

It’s grieving for the police officer killed by a failed asylum seeker from Afghanistan last Friday.

In the marketplace, rows of people queue to lay flowers.

A line of police marches forward, lowering their caps; colleagues and residents gathering to pay their respects and reflect on a crime that has shaken Germany and stoked divisions as people prepare to vote in the European elections.

“This attack happened before the election so it might be now that many people who live here vote for the far right,” says Imam Adeel Ahmad Shad.

“Some people feel safe, some don’t because they think now every Muslim man or people can attack them,” first-time voter Alan tells me.

The knife attack by an alleged Islamic extremist has sparked an emotional debate around migration and radical Islamism.

Some claim the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which campaigns on an anti-immigration stance, is using it to drum up votes.

So thousands have taken to the streets to protest against the party.

“AfD out of Mannheim,” they chant as they wind through the streets.

“The AfD of course spread their hatred and they abuse what happened just to once again pick on an entire religion while we claim to have religious freedom,” says Tanja Hilton, a candidate for the Left Party.

AfD counter-protest in Mannheim. Pic: picture-alliance/dpa/AP

Meanwhile, further up the street, the AfD is marking the one-week anniversary of the attack with its own rally in the city.

A smaller crowd listens as speakers discuss their views on immigration and Islamic extremism.

The regional chairman, Markus Frohnmaier, denies they’re trying to profit from the tragedy.

“People who say the AfD try to benefit from this, shame on them, because it’s not up to us. It’s not like the AfD planned it. It happened and our exercise as a political party is to handle this topic and to make sure that it will never happen again,” he says.

AfD rally in Mannheim. Pic: picture-alliance/dpa/AP

But this year’s EU election campaign has been especially bitter.

Several politicians have been attacked while campaigning.

Read more:
Denmark’s PM attacked
Slovakian PM shot multiple times

Social Democrat Matthias Ecke was badly beaten in Dresden, while a member of the Green Party was abused and spat at.

Prominent Berlin politician Franziska Giffey was violently assaulted and suffered injuries to her head and neck, adding to the concern over rising political violence in Germany.

On Tuesday, an AfD candidate was slashed with a knife in Mannheim after confronting someone pulling down posters.

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The police said the suspect showed clear signs of mental illness and stressed there was no concrete evidence that he had been aware that the victim was an AfD politician.

But across Germany tensions have been growing in the build-up to this election as opposing sides face off.

If predictions are correct, the far-right will be celebrating a surge in support across the EU when all the votes are counted.

A result with the potential to further fuel divisions inside Germany and across Europe.

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