German officials: 'Fake news' fuelled right-wing violence in Chemnitz

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German officials: 'Fake news' fuelled right-wing violence in Chemnitz

German officials have blamed the distribution of "fake news" on social media for helping to fuel right-wing violence in the eastern German city of Chemnitz over the past two days.

"We have to acknowledge that mobilization on the internet was stronger than in the past," said Michael Kretschmer, state premier of Saxony, where the violence took place.

The death of a 35-year-old German man - allegedly at the hands of two asylum seekers from Iraq and Syria - in the early hours of Sunday sparked two days of protests that were partially fuelled by the false claim the victim had intervened to protect a woman.

Police later denied this claim, which had been disseminated mainly by right-wing groups and the organizer of the rally Pro Chemnitz on social media.

Kretschmer said the subsequent anger "was based on xenophobic comments, false information and conspiracy theories ... it was based on fake news."

Police said the man had been stabbed during an altercation between two groups of men, including the suspects.

The two suspects have since been remanded in custody and are under investigation for manslaughter.

The rally provoked by the killing included some 6,000 right-wing protesters and around 1,000 counterprotesters. Police said in a statement that two police officers, nine far-right protesters and nine counterprotesters were injured in the clashes.

Saxony's Interior Minister Roland Woeller said right-wing groups had colluded with members of football hooligan groups to mobilize people from across Germany to travel to Chemnitz for the anti-immigrant demonstration.

Saxony police came under fire on Tuesday for failing to contain the rival protests. A police spokesman admitted late Monday that the police deployment to Chemnitz - which included 591 police officers - had not been large enough to separate the camps.

Oliver Malchow, head of police union GdP, told German newspaper Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung that thousands of police staff cuts in recent years were responsible for the lack of control over right-wing violence.

"The state has failed when is comes to domestic security because it massively reduced staff numbers," Malchow told the newspaper, adding that 20,000 new positions were required to remedy the situation.

Malchow pointed to a growing trend of vigilantism in Germany, saying: "When the state is perceived as no longer able to protect citizens, citizens take the law into their own hands and start to rely on self-defence militias and vigilantism."

The protests on Sunday and Monday included attacks on foreigners by right-wing extremists, which the German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced as "mob-like."

"We have video footage showing that there were hunts, that there was mob-like behaviour, that there was hate on the streets, and that is at odds with the rule of law in our country," Merkel said.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas referenced US civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech - delivered exactly 55 years ago - in his condemnation of the violence.

The attacks on foreigners showed "we have a lot left to do in order to realize the dream of equal rights," Maas said on Tuesday in Berlin.

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  • Releads with quotes from officials, updates throughout, adds Merkel quote

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  • Reporting by: Holger Mehlig in Berlin
  • Editing by: Friederike Heine
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