Germany's Scholz vows to defend free speech after campaign violence

  • World
  • Sunday, 09 Jun 2024

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks at the final Social Democratic Party campaign before the European Parliament election in Duisburg, Germany, June 8, 2024. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

BERLIN (Reuters) - At the end of an EU election campaign marred by violence, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Saturday freedom of speech must be protected at all costs, vowing to take action against anyone who threatens it.

Speaking at his party's final campaign rally for the European Parliament election, Scholz referred to the killing of a police officer by an Afghan man at an anti-Islam rally last week - an incident that shocked Germany.

While Scholz has since vowed to toughen up deportation rules, analysts say the incident could give a slight boost at the ballot box on Sunday to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has long argued for a much more stringent line on immigration.

But Scholz said on Saturday migrants were also the victims of violence committed by right-wing extremists, and referred to the wider problem of increasing political violence.

There have been 22 assaults on politicians that caused physical injury so far this year compared with 27 for all of 2023, the Federal Criminal Police Office said last month.

"We will take action against all those who threaten this freedom, who perpetrate violence, who make spaces small," Scholz said at the event held by his party, the Social Democrats (SPD), in the western city of Duisburg.

Rising attacks against politicians and bad-tempered campaigning between people with opposing views have deterred some candidates and canvassers from going out on the streets ahead of the election, politicians have told Reuters.

"It will not be accepted by us and we will use all the possibilities that our law creates, that the police and the judiciary have, to take action against those who want to restrict our freedom," Scholz said.

Populist parties on both sides of the political spectrum look set to do well in Germany on Sunday. The AfD is rivalling the SPD and Greens for second place in the latest polls, while the leftist Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance (BSW) is on track to win some 7% of the vote in its first major electoral test.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Helen Popper)

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