German far-right AfD bids to win back voters with anti-lockdown campaign

Joerg Meuthen, AfD co-leader and top candidate for the upcoming general elections, attends a two-day party congress of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AFD) amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Dresden, Germany, April 11, 2021. REUTERS/Matthias Rietschel

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) cast itself as the anti-lockdown party at a weekend conference in a bid to win back support before for a September election.

Almost 600 members of the party, which entered the national parliament for the first time after the 2017 election, met in the eastern city of Dresden despite coronavirus restrictions to agree an election manifesto, including a call to leave the European Union.

Dogged by internal divisions over how radical the party should be, it has dipped to around 11% in polls from nearly 13% in the 2017 election when it was the third biggest party and became the official parliamentary opposition.

During the pandemic the AfD has been linked with coronavirus deniers and opposed compulsory vaccinations - which the government has never proposed. Some AfD members have joined anti-lockdown demonstrations.

"The AfD wants to show these orgies of prohibition, this imprisonment, this lockdown madness, that there is no need for this," co-leader Joerg Meuthen told the conference.

Delegates backed a coronavirus resolution with the slogan "Germany. But normal", which includes rejecting wearing masks in day-care centres and schools and ending "disproportionate" lockdown measures.

Germany is struggling to contain a third wave of the pandemic and polls show a majority backs restrictions. Angela Merkel's government is drawing up a law to impose nationwide measures to avoid a confusing patchwork of rules which are not consistently implemented.

AfD delegates also backed a call for Germany to leave the EU and set up a new European community of economies and interests.

Set up in 2013 as an anti-euro party during the euro zone debt crisis, the party has shifted to the right and capitalised on voter anger over Merkel's 2015 open-door migrant policy. It has called for border controls and a ban on minarets.

Its tough line on migration led some conservatives to shift to the right but since entering parliament, the AfD has had little impact on policy. All mainstream parties refuse to cooperate with it.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by David Evans)

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