Angela Merkel faces protests on anniversary of German reunification

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to Dresden to mark the 26th anniversary of reunification drew protests from far-right nationalists who oppose her policy of welcoming refugees.

Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
Supporters of the movement 'Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West' (PEGIDA) march to protest against the German government during celebrations marking the German Unification Day, in Dresden, Germany Monday.

Celebrations marking 26 years since Germany's reunification filled the streets of Dresden Monday, but the mood wasn't all jovial.

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived and greeted the people who had gathered, some right-wing protestors jeered and shouted "traitor" and "Merkel must go," while holding placards bearing the same slogan.

At the center of the criticism levied against her and other politicians is Merkel's open-door refugee policy. 

Dresden, where the celebrations of German Unity Day took place, is a hotbed of anti-migrant sentiment. The anti-Islam group Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, known by its German acronym as PEGIDA, is based there. The grassroots movement has held weekly rallies in the city, attracting about 20,000 supporters at their peak in early 2015.

Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, called for Germans to celebrate German Unity Day, which marks the reunification of the once-divided nation on Oct. 3, 1990. Germany had been divided into a capitalist west and communist east after World War II.

"For me personally, but also for most people in Germany, this is still a day of joy, a day of thankfulness," the chancellor said.

She went on to acknowledge that there are "new tasks, new problems" that Germany faces, but called on Germans to face them "with mutual respect and acceptance of very different political views."

The protests have arisen from concern over the influx of about 890,000 asylum seekers last year, welcomed by Merkel's immigration policies. These migrants were mainly Muslim refugees escaping conflict and poverty in their home nations.

The massive amount of immigrants arriving in Germany has been a polarizing issue. Calls for immigration caps by far-right politicians have continued, despite a slower flow of people coming to Germany in 2016. This year, an estimated 210,000 people have entered the country.

Merkel has stood firmly, refusing to limit the number of asylum seekers allowed into Germany.

Two homemade bombs exploded last week in Dresden, one outside a mosque and another at an international conference center. Over the weekend, three police cars were set on fire.

Some 2,600 police officers were on hand for the holiday celebrations, as security was tightened for the crowds.

Last month the German government published a report noting an increase of racist and far-right violence in eastern Germany. The report called the attacks, "a big threat for the development of the society and economy."

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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