German Chancellor Angela Merkel was shouted down by a huge crowd of angry protesters on Monday when she attended celebrations in the eastern city of Dresden to mark 26 years since Germany’s reunification.
Blaring whistles and angry voters chanting “Traitor of the people!” greeted Merkel as she entered a church.
The protesters, mostly men, were kept behind a wall of metal barricades that were lined with police officers. Some 2,600 police had to be deployed as a security precaution.
Placards with “Merkel must go” were also held up by the demonstrators.
The jeering chants continued after the service, when the chancellor, President Joachim Gauck and Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière exited the church.
German media estimated the number of protesters at “several hundred”, but according to other estimates there were several thousands.
Merkel faces a political upheaval for her open-door refugee policy, as support for Pegida and the AfD across Germany has swelled.
Alternative for Germany (AfD) harnessed a wave of distrust in Merkel over the influx of foreigners to claim around 14 percent of the vote last month in Berlin state, as anti-migrant parties in France, Austria and the Netherlands as well as US Republican contender Donald Trump, are gaining in strength.
Last year’s arrival of some two million migrants, mainly Muslims fleeing poverty and war in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, has increased social tensions and culture shock.
Dresden was the cradle of the anti-Islam PEGIDA grassroots movement, whose weekly rallies have attracted thousands of supporters.
But Dresden is also the city that brought down the Berlin Wall, and is therefore host to the national celebrations that mark the reunification of East and West Germany.
In a short statement, Merkel called for “mutual respect”and “acceptance of very divergent political opinions” as three police cars in the city were being torched.
She had earlier condemned “misuse” by anti-immigration protesters of the phrase “Wir sind das Volk” (We are the people), a slogan originally used by East Germans in protests leading up to the fall of the Wall in 1989.
Merkel, who grew up as a Communist in East Germany, also blasted the “shamefully high number” of “xenophobic attacks”, but failed to mention hundreds of sexual assaults by immigrants.
Last week bomb attacks hit a mosque and an international convention centre in Dresden.