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Chinese spying claims deepen German far right's woes

By AFP

April 24, 2024 06:38 PM


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Germany's far-right AfD fought Wednesday to draw a line under Chinese spying allegations, the latest in a slew of scandals to hit the anti-immigration party in a key election year.

An aide to Maximilian Krah, a member of the European Parliament for the AfD and the party's top candidate for June's EU elections, was arrested on Monday on suspicion of spying for China.

The AfD's leaders Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla summoned Krah to an emergency meeting in Berlin on Wednesday morning.

The controversial politician will not attend a key event this weekend to officially launch the party's EU vote race "so as not to damage the election campaign and the standing of the party", they said after the talks.

But Krah himself said he would "remain the leading candidate" in the vote.

German media reported that the party will remove Krah from campaign posters and videos while keeping him on its list of candidates.

An AfD spokesman declined to comment on the reports when contacted by AFP.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz called the allegations "very worrying", without commenting on the case in detail.

After riding high in opinion polls at the end of last year, the AfD has since seen its support hammered by a series of scandals.

 'Descending into chaos' 

 The spying claims come on top of other recent allegations that Krah has links to Russia, piling pressure on the party seven weeks before the EU elections and ahead of key regional polls in Germany in September.

Towards the end of 2023, the AfD was polling at around 22 percent -- ahead of Scholz's Social Democrats (SPD) and second only to the main opposition conservatives.

But one survey this week put it at 16 percent.

In January, an investigation by the media group Correctiv indicated members of the AfD had discussed the idea of mass deportations at a meeting with extremists, leading to a wave of protests across the country.

More recently, Krah and another AfD candidate for the EU elections, Petr Bystron, have been forced to deny allegations they accepted money to spread pro-Russian positions on a Moscow-financed news website.

And Bjoern Hoecke, one of the AfD's most controversial politicians and the head of the party in Thuringia state, is currently on trial in Germany for publicly using a banned Nazi slogan.

Dirk Wiese, a senior politician for the SPD, told the Rheinische Post newspaper the AfD was "descending into chaos".

"First the allegations of sleazy money payments from the Kremlin, now suspected espionage for China... What's next, North Korea?" he said.

The AfD's parliamentary group chief Bernd Baumann slammed the China spying claims as "politically motivated" and put them down to "dirty" electioneering.

"We have become pretty hardened when it comes to accusations, especially in pre-election and election campaign times," he said, blaming "suspicious reporting" for many of the claims.

 End of an era? 

 Asked about the alleged links to Russia, AfD co-leader Chrupalla said that "as long as no evidence and proof is put on the table, we cannot react".

Chrupalla also remained reticent on the China issue, stressing that no charges had been brought and the party leadership would "wait and see" how the case develops before coming to any conclusions.

But despite the attempts at damage limitation, experts say the scandals could have a profound effect on the AfD's chances in this year's elections.

"The party is not managing to go on the offensive at the moment," said Wolfgang Schroeder, a political analyst from the University of Kassel.

"The AfD is allowing itself to be cornered rather than setting the issues itself," he said.

The AfD is currently still polling neck-and-neck with the SPD at the national level and in first place in Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia, all holding regional polls in September.

But Hajo Funke, a political analyst who specializes in the far right, said support for the party has "fallen considerably in some cases" because of the scandals.

"Overall, I believe that the great era of 'we are doing better and better' has come to an end," he told AFP.


AFP


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