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German mayor quits after 3-month anti-asylum campaign

A German mayor who tried to accommodate 40 refugees but ran into neo-Nazi-led protests has quit. Markus Nierth says the last straw was the reluctance of county officials to shield his family from abuse.

Mainstream German media on Monday characterized the resignation of the mayor of Tröglitz in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt as another case of Germany's "welcoming culture" policy being contradicted by far-right xenophobia.

The council of the Burgenland Landkreis district was due to meet behind closed doors on Monday evening to decide on hostel rental arrangements for 40 asylum seekers assigned to Tröglitz, a town of some 3,000 residents.

Nierth and his wife Susanna said the decision to quit was made last Thursday because opponents had planned a further "stroll" intended to end directly outside their home on Sunday.

After consulting their lawyer, they said district authorities had only required organizers to modify the march route under Germany's freedom of assembly laws.

His children were "much too valuable" to be exposed to hate-filled shouting and the sight of armed police officers standing guard outside the house, Nierth said.

Protest led by NPD politician

Germany's Protestant Church news agency EPD said the anti-aslyum-seeker protest was led by Steffen Thiel of the far-right NPD party. Since July, Thiel belongs to Burgenland's 55-member district assembly, or Kreistag.

Despite a December letter to Tröglitz residents asking them to welcome refugees, Nierth, a 46-year-old theologian who became mayor five years ago, had endured a three-month "tragedy," said the widely-read German news magazine Der Spiegel on Monday.

In recent weeks, the family had faced hostility and insults out of the "bottom drawer," Mrs Nierth said. "He doesn't fear the neo-Nazis, but instead wants to protect his family."

Mrs Nierth said up to 100 mostly far-right opponents were "carted in from outside" and included hardly any local residents.

The ex-mayor told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper he felt "abandoned" by the Burgenland district administration. It had failed to defy the far-right by sending a clear signal and had even allowed it to pervert the law of assembly, he added.

Prayers for peace

Tröglitz's Protestant vicar Matthias Kielholz said more than 100 people, including Saxony-Anhalt's interior minister, Holger Stahlknecht, and the district's head, Götz Ulrich, had attended peace prayers on Sunday evening in the local church.

Such prayer evenings had taken place since January, Kielholz said.

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Stahlknecht, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), said on Sunday: "We don't let anyone intimidate us in our democracy and freedom."

'Defeat for democracy'

The Left party's group leader in Saxony-Anhalt's state assembly in Magdeburg, Wulf Gallert, described Nierth's decision to resign as a "severe defeat for democracy."

A breakdown of solidarity for refugees and for those who support them contributed to a society that was cold and racist, Gallert said.

On its website, the 1414 square-kilometer Burgenlandkreis district prides itself on its numerous historic castles and opportunities for investors in middle-sized industry and handwork businesses in central Germany.

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Skilled trades' leader backs immigrants

The president of Germany's ZDH skilled trades federation, Hans Peter Wollseifer, has demanded German authorities grant resident status so asylum-seekers can learn skills, enter work and establish careers as master craftsmen and women.

"Proprietors need particularly planning and legal security. Politicians must create the conditions so that young people can complete their training," Wollseifer said, referring to recent objections from federal interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere.

The ZDH represents about one million mostly small and medium-sized businesses, with an overall annual turnover of half a billion euros.

Germany industry has in recent years forecast growing shortages in skilled workers because Germany's population is aging demographically, with many experienced hands entering retirement.

Hostel damaged

Police in Germany's southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg said perpetrators had caused massive water damage over the weekend at an intended asylum-seekers' hostel in the town of Malterdingen by turning on taps and ripping out a drain pipe.

ipj/jr (AFP, epd, dpa)

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