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Germany's populist AfD party debates Islam as congress continues

The German right-wing populist party AfD is continuing its conference aimed at formulating a concrete manifesto. A critical view of the role of Islam in Germany constitutes one of its major policy focuses.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party on Sunday turned its focus to the

issue of Islam in Germany,

after having decided on Saturday to call for a reduction of Brussels' say in German politics at its congress in the southern city of Stuttgart.

The AfD leadership has said it sees the Islamic religion as a political ideology that is not reconcilable with the German constitution. It is opposed to allowing the construction of minarets in Germany, and wants to ban both calls to worship by muezzins and the wearing of full-face veils.

Co-chairman Jörg Meuthen said on Saturday that although religious freedom was an essential part of German culture, the Western, Christian world view was the guiding principle, and not Islam. For this reason, he said, muezzin calls could not be given the same status as the ringing of church bells.

The congress voted in favor of including a section in the manifesto entitled "Islam is not part of Germany," a phrase echoing comments by Chancellor Angela Merkel and former German President Christian Wulff asserting the opposite.

"An orthodox form of Islam that does not respect our legal system or even resists it, and that makes the claim to be the only valid religion is not reconcilable with our legal system and culture," the manifesto now reads. Delegates voted against including a statement making it clear that Muslims would not be consistently rejected.

A member who called for a more sophisticated discussion without "friend-enemy rhetoric" was greeted by whistles from some other delegates.

Watch video 01:46

Protests at far right political gathering

A previous draft outlining the AfD's planned policy on Islam met with strong criticism from churches, Muslim organizations and other political parties. The start of the congress was also delayed after crowds of demonstrators protested at what they see as a racist and intolerant party stance. They

tried to prevent the some 2,000 AfD members from reaching the meeting venue.
Deutschland AfD Bundesparteitag in Stuttgart Blockierte Autobahn

Protesters blocked highways leading to the venue

'More peaceful future'

AfD leader Frauke Petry (in top photo) has rejected what she calls a "mantra-like accusation" by the media that her party was lurching to the right, saying there was no proof of this.

The deputy chairman of the party, Alexander Gauland, said at the opening of the conference that the meeting was being held "in the hope of a more peaceful, more free and more social future for Germany."

The party, which was formed three years ago, sees itself as serious competition for mainstream parties, with Petry saying that it wanted "to achieve majorities so we can assert our program as a alternative to the political establishment."

She called the direct democracy espoused by the party "a unique selling point."

Co-chairman Meuthen said the

first manifesto of the party,

which is meant to be finalized on Sunday, was to express "healthy patriotism."

Jörg Meuthen

Meuthen says German culture is based on Christian values

Euro exit

Among other things, the party is calling for an exit from the euro common currency, the upholding of the "traditional family" as a desirable model, more referendums and the retention of nuclear energy as a mainstay of the power supply in Germany.

The program also calls for increased restrictions on immigration, saying Germany should not repeat "the mistakes of the 60s and 70s and look abroad to procure labor power." In those years, Germany invited many workers, notably from Turkey, to come to the country to fill gaps in the labor force for its rapidly growing industry.

The party has also demanded that Germany leave the European Union unless Brussels curtails some of its political influence on member states. Petry called this demand "a long-term persepective," however.

The AfD is now

represented in the parliaments

of eight German states, and even at the national level has made strong gains in popularity, with surveys giving it between 12 and 14 percent of the vote. This comes one-and-a-half years before Germany holds its next national elections.

People voting at AfD conference

The congress is being attended by some 2,000 delegates

Criticism from other parties

The survey result suggests that the AfD is currently the third strongest political force in the country after the conservative CDU/CSU union under Chancellor Angela Merkel and the SPD.

Both Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) have criticized decisions taken at the AfD congress.

CDU General Secretary Peter Tauber told the Sunday edition of the mass-circulation "Bild" newspaper that it was "not possible to win the future with a program of fear." SPD General Secretary Katarina Barley told the same paper that the congress showed "how unmodern and backward-looking the AfD is in reality," and that its anti-euro stance could threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Although the party aims to come up with a manifesto by the end of Sunday, observers say it is unlikely that delegates can cover all the issues at the Stuttgart meeting and that a second congress will be necessary to produce a complete and final party agenda.

tj/jm (dpa, AFP, epd)

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