COLOGNE, Germany — Germany’s right-wing populist AfD held a party congress Saturday marred by a bitter power struggle five months before a general election and disruptions by thousands of leftist demonstrators. As the 600 delegates began filing into the congress venue, a hotel in the western city of Cologne, singing and chanting protesters attempted to stop them passing through security barricades, leading to scuffles with authorities. Two police officers were injured. Up to 50,000 demonstrators were expected to mobilise during the two-day gathering of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, with 4,000 police officers dispatched to keep the peace. As the congress began, AfD co-leader Frauke Petry failed in her bid to rally members behind a more moderate-sounding programme based on pragmatic “Realpolitik” intended to shut down the party’s more extremist voices. Top-selling daily Bild called delegates’ decision to not even debate her motion a “blow” for Petry, a 41-year-old former chemist who is pregnant with her fifth child. In a fervent appeal opening the event, Petry said the AfD could still aim to become Germany’s top party by the next general election in four years’ time if it softened the harder edges of its message. Members needed to decide “whether and how the AfD can become a realistic option to take power for voters by 2021 so we don’t permanently leave the government to the established parties,” she said.
The AfD, now represented in 11 of Germany’s 16 states, aims to sign off on a programme that will pave the way for the party to enter the national parliament for the first time in its four-year history. Showdown Between Factions Founded in 2013 on a eurosceptic platform, the AfD seized on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to let in more than a million asylum seekers since 2015, transforming the German political landscape.