June 15, 2020 / 9:44 AM / a month ago

Germany puts far-right regional branch under surveillance - media

FILE PHOTO: Germany's Alternative for Germany (AfD) leader Alexander Gauland (right) attends a session of parliament dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, in Berlin, Germany, May 28, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has put a regional branch of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) under surveillance, German media reported on Monday, denting the far-right party’s efforts to establish itself as a credible opposition force.

The development followed the expulsion from the AfD last month of Andreas Kalbitz, the party’s chief in the eastern state of Brandenburg, over links with right-wing extremist organisations - a decision by the AfD national executive committee still disputed by rank-and-file members.

Brandenburg Interior Minister Michael Stuebgen and Germany’s domestic intelligence chief Joerg Mueller will give more details later on Monday on the decision, broadcaster RTL said, citing state government sources.

The AfD condemned the reported decision. “(It) is just as wrong as the previous classifications of the AfD by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution,” party Honorary Chairman Alexander Gauland said in a statement emailed to Reuters, using the official name of the BfV domestic intelligence agency.

The BfV decided in March to step up surveillance of a radical wing in the AfD, undermining its defence against accusations that it harbours racist views.

The AfD surged into second place last September in a regional election in Brandenburg, which surrounds the capital Berlin, building on its success in the 2017 national election when it came third to become the largest opposition party.

The AfD harnessed voter anger over the arrival of more than 1 million migrants and refugees in 2015 and the planned closure of coal mines in the formerly communist eastern states. But it has failed to keep up its momentum, losing popular support during the coronavirus pandemic.

A survey by pollster Forsa published on Saturday showed the AfD polling at 8% nationally, down from 11% in early March.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives have enjoyed a 14 point bounce in the same period to 40%, boosted by her handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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