A youth pastor known in Germany for his stance against neo-Nazis has been arrested in Leipzig during a leftist protest. At least 56 officers and several demonstrators were injured in clashes with left-wing protesters.
Police used water cannon and tear gas in the eastern German city's suburb of Südvorstadt on Saturday as violence erupted during a set of protests by various civil groups against a gathering by 200 neo-Nazis.
Authorites said 69 police officers were injured and 50 of their vehicles were damaged.
Twenty-three people people were detained until early Sunday. Leipzig prosecutors said they were preparing numerous indictments of seriously breaching the peace.
The clashes on the fringe of a leftist counter-rally were described by Leipzig's Social Democrat (SPD) mayor Burkhard Jung as "shocking."
"That is open street terror," Jung said, adding that "criminals" had discredited important, peaceful protest against neo-Nazis.
The student group "Durchgezahlt," meaning "all counted" in English, said 2,500 people had taken part in various counter-demonstrations against the neo-Nazi rally for which originally 600 participants had been expected.
Leipzig, a booming metropole of 560,000 with an innovative reputation, lies in Saxony, a regional state where elsewhere this year 126 attacks on hostels for asylum seekers, mostly arson, have been registered.
That count represented a quarter of all such incidents in Germany in 2015, said the monitoring website "Mediendienst Integration" on Friday.
Pastor 'breached the peace'
Protestant pastor and youth worker Lothar König, 61, who had turned up to the leftist rally with his loudspeaker van, was accused by police of resisting officers and breaching the peace.
The German news agency DPA said he was released on Saturday evening.
In 2011, König, had denied similar alleged transgressions when resisting far-right extremists in Dresden.
Saxony prosecutors dropped that case in November last year after senior politicians came to König's defense and criticised police actions.
Intended route denied
On Saturday, the neo-Nazis had intended to march through Leipzig's alternative lifestyle district of Connewitz. But authorities refused them entry, citing safeguards needed for a pre-Christmas market and concert.
Police reinforcements had been called in from other German states to keep factions apart - a practice often used by authorities to uphold freedom of assembly principles anchored in Germany's constitution.
Tires, containers set ablaze
During the violence in Südvorstadt rubbish containers were set ablaze, a bus stop demolished and windows broken.
A police spokeswoman said masked persons in leftist ranks had attacked police "massively" during the rally by "a thousand violently-inclined leftist autonomists."
In the early hours of Saturday car tires and rubbish containers and the roof of a warehouse had been set on fire.
The Left party said one of its newly set up offices had been attacked by right-wing extremists, resulting in 5,000-euros worth of damage.
Refugees' bus frightened off
On Thursday, asylum seekers arriving at new container-style shelter in Saxony's town of Jahnsdorf were confronted by 30 people including six persons who threw stones and explosive crackers at their bus.
Police said the refugees were so frightened by the hostility that they asked to be taken to alternative accommodation.
The communal office of Jahnsdorf, a 5,600-member town, later issued a statement distancing itself from the violent reception and said the troublemakers were probably outsiders.
Saxony's Interior Minister Markus Ulbig of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats vowed that authorities would continue to bring to justice those responsible "for these cowardly excesses of violence."
Newly arrived pupils attacked
That incident coincided on Thursday with revelations that children of refugee families had been attacked by fellow school pupils in the town of Wurzen near Leipzig last week.
A nine-year-old suffered a fractured arm. An injured 14-year-old girl also had to be given emergency treatment.
Xenophobic abyss, says Özoğuz
The German federal government's commission for the integration of foreigners, Aydan Özoğuz, said the school incident revealed a "xenophobic abyss" in attitudes held by some parents and in society at large that led to such crimes.
"It shows that the hate and rabble-rousing on Saxony streets has laid the groundwork for violence against people seeking protection," said Özoğuz, a senior member of the Social Democrats in Merkel's grand coalition government.
All democratic forces in Germany must position themselves against such trends, she said.
ipj,jar/jm (epd, dpa, AFP)