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German AfD leader: Trump offers change that may ease U.S.-Russian tensions

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s anti-immigrant party chief said on Thursday U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump offers the prospect of change in U.S.-Russian relations which could help reduce conflict in Ukraine to Berlin’s advantage.

Anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) leader Frauke Petri smiles in Berlin, Germany October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

Frauke Petry, whose Alternative for Germany (AfD) has hurt Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in a series of regional elections this year, also said in a Reuters Television interview that Germany should take a “balanced position” toward Russia.

She said the EU should then drop sanctions imposed on Moscow over its role in Ukraine’s pro-Russian separatist rebellion as soon as possible.

Asked if she would like to see change at the U.S. election, Petry said: “I believe that democratic change per se is not bad; whether it will be for the better we cannot predict.”

Trump is challenging Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 election to replace President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

“One sees that Trump may offer possible alternatives,” Petry said. “Whether he can actually deliver that we do not know. But if Mrs Clinton continues the path of Obama, then we may have an expanded war in Ukraine and that cannot be in German interests.”

Clinton accused Trump during Wednesday’s presidential debate of being a “puppet” for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Petry spoke after Merkel hosted Putin for talks on Wednesday at which she criticized Moscow over Russian air strikes on civilians in Syria’s war carried out with the stated goal of fighting terrorism. Russia is the Syrian government’s main ally in its war with rebels and Islamist militants.

Founded in 2013 as an anti-euro party, the AfD has in the last year played to voters’ fears of difficulties in integrating almost one million migrants who entered Germany last year.

Mainstream German politicians have avoided engaging in debate with the AfD. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Thursday that angst drove people toward isolationism and that politicians must dissuade them from this course.

Asked about comments Trump has made about women that his wife has described as “offensive to me”, Petry said there was a “very weird” situation in Germany with regard to sexism.

“We have German politicians that are attacked for calling someone ‘a little mouse’ or ‘darling’ or something like that - and this causes uproar in the German media,” she said.

“We don’t see this uproar when we talk about women being harassed, being sexually attacked by migrants.”

Petry declined to confirm German media reports that she met Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front (FN), in July. “In my opinion, the chancellor should meet Ms Le Pen, who may become French president next year,” she said.

Petry described the policies of the European Central Bank as “catastrophic” and warned that the euro zone risked breaking up. The ECB on Thursday held interest rates at historic lows.

Writing by Paul Carrel