September 23, 2017 / 4:35 PM / a month ago

Syrian migrant tells Germans: Cherish your democracy, go vote!

AACHEN, Germany (Reuters) - Social Democrat Martin Schulz on Saturday read out a message he received via Facebook from a young Syrian migrant who called on Germans to exercise their right to vote in Sunday’s national election.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) Chancellor candidate Martin Schulz speaks during the final campaign rally in Aachen, Germany, September 23, 2017. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

In an open letter to the German people, Abdul Abbasi, a translator at a migrant legal clinic in Goettingen, talked of watching friends killed before his eyes while participating in pro-democracy demonstrations in Syria in 2012, Schulz said.

“Their goals and desires were things that are considered normal in Germany in 2017. They died because they wanted to live as free people ... they wanted the right to participate in the politics of their country,” Abbasi wrote.

“The ability to vote and live in a democratic country is a dream of many in this world,” he said. “Go vote and protect your democracy, protect us from people who divide us into categories, fight against our ability to live together and want to divide the society.”

Abbasi was not immediately available to comment. His Facebook profile said he was from Aleppo, Syria, and was studying dentistry at the University of Goettingen.

Schulz said the letter underscored the importance of voting at a time when the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is poised to become the first far-right party in the Bundestag since the end of World War Two.

Abbasi posted the open letter in response to a Facebook posting in which Schulz called the AfD “a danger to our democracy” and said it “has no business being in parliament”.

Founded in 2013 to oppose large bailouts of financially strapped euro zone countries, the AfD has gained popular support after Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015 opened the doors to about a million migrants. It is now polling around 13 percent.

“What a wonderful letter, and what a challenge for us,” Schulz told thousands of supporters gathered for his final campaign appearance.

With support of around 21 percent, the SPD is running far behind Merkel’s conservatives in the polls, which are at 34 percent.

Electoral arithmetic might yet force Merkel to renew her coalition with the SPD, or she might opt for a three-way alliance with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and environmental Greens.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Stephen Powell

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