BERLIN (Reuters) - Senior German politicians on Wednesday accused U.S. President Donald Trump of trivializing violence by white supremacists in Virginia and called for a clear rejection of their ideology.
Governments could only win the fight against hatred, racism and anti-Semitism by rejecting such ideology and the willingness to use violence, said Martin Schulz, the center-left candidate for chancellor, adding that this applies to Germany and the United States.
“The trivialization of Nazi violence by the confused utterances of Donald Trump is highly dangerous,” said Schulz, leader of the Social Democrats (SPD).
“We should not tolerate the monstrosities coming out of the president’s mouth,” he told the RND newspaper group in an interview.
Republican leaders criticized Trump for saying leftist counter-protesters were also to blame for violence last Saturday in Charlottesville that left one person dead and several injured. His comments won praise from white far-right groups.
Schulz is the main challenger to Chancellor Angela Merkel at a Sept. 24 election. The SPD, junior partner in Merkel’s grand coalition, trails Merkel’s conservatives in polls.
Schulz’s comments were echoed by Justice Minister Heiko Maas, another senior member of the SPD.
“It is unbearable how Trump is now glossing over the violence of the right-wing hordes from Charlottesville,” Maas said in a statement, reflecting concern across the German political spectrum about the Trump presidency.
“No one should trivialize anti-Semitism and racism by neo-Nazis,” said Maas, senior member of the co-governing SPD.
Schulz and Maas are the highest-ranking German politicians to criticize Trump’s rhetoric about the violence.
The country has tough laws against hate speech and any symbols linked to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, who ruled from 1933 until their defeat in 1945.
Merkel told broadcaster Phoenix on Monday that clear and forceful action was required to combat right-wing extremism, noting that Germans had also seen a rise in anti-Semitism and had “quite a lot to do at home ourselves”.
Trump has come under increasing pressure over his stance on the violence, with many members of his own Republican party and U.S. business executives distancing themselves from him.
Trump on Tuesday said his original reaction was based on facts he had at the time and said both sides were to blame.
The violence erupted during a protest by white nationalists against plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, commander of the pro-slavery Confederate army during the American Civil War.
Protesters and counter-protesters clashed in scattered street brawls before a car ploughed into the rally’s opponents, killing one woman and injuring 19 other people.
Reporting by Michael Nienaber and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Andrew Bolton and Matthew Mpoke Bigg