BERLIN, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Over 200 masked right-wing supporters, carrying placards with racist overtones, went on a rampage in the eastern city of Leipzig on Monday night, throwing fireworks, breaking windows and vandalising buildings, police said.
Emotions are running high in German cities after gangs of young migrant men sexually assaulted women at New Year in mass attacks in Cologne and other towns.
The attacks have deepened public scepticism towards Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy and her mantra that Germany can cope with the 1.1 million migrants who arrived in the country last year. It has also fuelled right-wing groups.
As roughly 2,000 anti-Muslim “LEGIDA” protesters marched peacefully in the city centre, police said a separate group of 211 people walked through the the southern Connewitz district before setting of fireworks, erecting barricades and vandalising property. The top floor of one building caught fire.
The group carried a placard reading “Leipzig bleibt Helle”, or “Leipzig stays light”, an apparent reference to the skin colour of residents.
“The 211 people were to a not insignificant degree already on record as being right-wing sympathisers and or members of violent sporting groups,” said police, adding officers brought the situation under control relatively quickly.
Self-styled German soccer ‘hooligans’ tend to join right-wing groups on marches, sometimes starting fights.
The police put the right-wingers in a bus which was then attacked by left-wing supporters.
At the LEGIDA protest, people shouted “Merkel must go” and held placards showing the chancellor in a Muslim veil and reading “Merkel, take your Muslims with you and get lost”.
With the number of migrants arriving in Europe’s biggest economy set to rise further this year, Merkel is under growing pressure to toughen her line on refugees.
An INSA poll in Bild daily put support for Merkel’s conservative bloc down 1 point at 35 percent with the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has strongly criticised the Merkel’s refugee policy, up 2 points at 11.5 percent.
INSA traditionally puts AfD slightly higher than most other polling institutes. (Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Noah Barkin)