At least 20,000 people have marked German Unity Day by marching through Munich. Activists protested against Bavaria's new police laws and the state government's increasingly right-wing policies.
Tens of thousands of people celebrated German Unity Day by taking to the streets of Munich to rally against the regional government, less than two weeks before Bavarian state elections.
Marching under the banner "Jetzt Gilt's" (roughly translated as "Now it's time"), activists protested against the local Christian Social Union (CSU) government and its shift to the right amid the rise of the populist AfD. Demonstrators also denounced the state's hard-line police bill that came into effect back in May.
Authorities said at least 21,000 people took part in the demonstrations, although organizers placed the number at around 40,000.
The activist group noPAG ("PAG" being a German acronym for the Police Task Bill) demanded that the regional government withdraw many of the "draconian" police powers granted under the new legislation, such as the right for police to take preventative action against threats it deems to be "impending," rather than those it deems "concrete," as in the past.
The group also insisted authorities immediately stop the deportations of rejected asylum-seekers back to besieged and crisis-stricken countries.
Crosses, eagles and nests
DW correspondent Rebecca Staudenmaier, who was in Munich for the demonstration, shared pictures of protesters lifting signs chiding Bavarian State Premier Markus Söder and Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (both from the conservative CSU).
One sign said "No cross for Söder," a pun both on the cross voters put on a ballot paper and on Bavaria's recent law — Söder's first of note as premier — mandating that most state buildings display a crucifix. Another read "This eagle doesn't need a nest" (the German for "nest" being "Horst," also Seehofer's first name).
Laura Pöhler, a spokeswoman for noPAG, said activists were expressing their opposition toward "the authoritarian restructuring and a rightward shift" occurring in the lead-up to the Bavarian election. "Instead of fear, hatred and violence, we need to build a society from which human rights are indivisible, and diversity and self-determination are guaranteed," Pöhler said.
The group also said it was preparing to file a constitutional complaint against the extended police laws on Friday.
Thomas von Sarnowski, a Green Party candidate in the upcoming Bavarian elections, told DW his party sought "to send a signal that we need a different Bavaria."
According to the latest polls, the CSU is expected to lose its absolute majority in the state parliament. Asked about the prospect of the Greens going into coalition with the CSU, Sarnowski said: "That's certainly not something that's fun for us, but you go into politics to change something."
Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann went as far as to attack the Greens, as well as the left-leaning Social Democrats, for supporting supposedly "extremist" organizations partaking in the protests. He also defended the state's police bill, saying that "if we want live safely in Bavaria, we need a strong police force with a regulated right to enforce the law."
Bavaria goes to the polls on October 14.