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Leading European right-wing populists attend Koblenz meeting

The right-wing populist group in the European Parliament is holding a convention in the western German city of Koblenz. Protests by various leftist groups are taking place in the city.

The political group Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), which consists of representatives of several populist and anti-immigration parties including Germany's Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the French National Front, is holding a convention in the western German city of Koblenz on Saturday.

The ENF is the smallest group in the European Parliament, with 40 members. However, some 1,000 participants are expected at the meeting.

Prominent European populist politicians, including AfD co-leader Frauke Petry, the National Front's leader and French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and the Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, are attending, along with Matteo Salvini, who head Italy's Northern League (LN).

Petry and Le Pen already met up on the eve of the convention in Mainz, some 98 kilometers southeast of Koblenz (61 miles), police said.

Last week, it emerged that a number of journalists have been banned from attending the convention, including representatives of some of Germany's most respected news outlets. The AfD frequently alleges that it receives inadequate coverage in the media.

DW's Kate Brady, however, is among the journalists to have received accreditation.

'Domino effect'

In her speech during what was her first public appearance in Germany, Le Pen said that "2016 was the year that the Anglo-Saxon world woke up," adding that Britain's vote last year to leave the European Union would have a "domino effect" across the bloc.

"I don't say every country has to leave the euro ... But we have to leave the possibility if a country wants to leave," she added.

Le Pen, whom many analysts see as likely to be one of two presidential candidates in a May runoff vote in France, has adopted an anti-EU stance as a major element in her campaign.

Wilders, for his part, hailed the advent of Donald Trump onto the world stage as newly inaugurated US president, saying: "Yesterday a free America, today Koblenz, tomorrow a new Europe."

Trump, who took office on Friday, has advocated a vehement "America first" nationalist stance.

The Dutch politician also scored with his audience by calling for Petry to become German chancellor instead of current leader Angela Merkel, whom populist parties regularly accuse of having harmed Europe and her country by allowing in hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants, many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in their native countries.

Currently, Petry would seem far from having the necessary voter backing to win the position, with Germany to hold general elections on September 24. Results of a poll released on Wednesday showed the AfD with just 11 percent support, having lost one percentage point since the previous week, as compared with Merkel's conservative CDU/CSU bloc with 38 percent and the SPD with 21 percent. 

Demonstrations 

Protests by opponents of the right-wing populist agenda are accompanying the conference, with police estimating crowd numbers at around 3,000. German Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Sigmar Gabriel was among those protesting, with Greens co-chairwoman Simone Peter and Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn also scheduled to participate.

Ahead of the populist convention, SPD General Secretary Katharina Barley called for resistance to right-wing populism in Europe.

Siegmar Gabriel in Koblenz Proteste ENF Tagung (Reuters/K.Pfaffenbach)

Gabriel is among the prominent figures at the protests

In an interview with the paper "Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung" published on Saturday, she warned that many people did not yet realize the seriousness of the situation, saying that the aggressiveness with which European nationalists were asserting themselves was "terrifying."

"These people think that each country should have only its own interests in view, even at someone else's expense," Barley said. "Such an ideology leads in the long run to wars."

The meeting in Koblenz served the right-wing populists as an opportunity "to organize their attack on our democracy and our freedom," she said, urging people to form a broad alliance against them.

Barley is also to take part in demonstrations against the meeting.

tj/rc (epd, dpa)

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