October 5, 2016 / 12:37 PM / a year ago

Merkel says refugee policy unchanged despite rising aggression

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives to sign a book of condolence for former Israeli President Shimon Peres at the embassy of Israel in Berlin, Germany, September 30, 2016.Michael Kappeler/POOL

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged on Wednesday that her open-door migrant policy had unleashed a wave of aggression from right-wing opponents in Germany but made clear that her course was unchanged.

The comments, made to Die Zeit weekly, come two days after several hundred right-wing protesters jeered her in the eastern city of Dresden.

Her decision last year to open Germany's borders led to the arrival of around 900,000 refugees, mostly Muslims. That triggered fears among voters about integration and eroded Merkel's own popularity.

In the interview, Merkel said it was indisputable that aggression had risen dramatically in the last year.

"The confrontations now from social media are sharper and broader ... That is democracy today," she said. But she added it would not stop her from trying to explain her policies to people.

Despite the growing opposition, she stood by her underlying decisions, she said.

"Policy is also always in flux, but its basis has remained constant," she said.

Her policy was based on helping people in need due to war or terrorism, rejecting human trafficking that endangered people's lives and sticking to the EU's principle of freedom of movement.

After two regional election losses in September, Merkel said she wished she could turn the clock back on her migrant policy and prepare better for the influx.

The 'mea culpa' was widely seen as a conciliatory gesture to her critics, especially on the right of her conservative bloc, but it stopped short of offering any actual policy concessions.

"If I talk about mistakes, then I mean the whole system of European refugee and migrant policy, how Europe behaved towards refugees and migrants over many years," she told Die Zeit.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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