Merkel says political hate speech is ‘playing with fire’

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SOLINGEN, Germany (Reuters) – Far-right politicians in Germany who engage in xenophobic rhetoric are not just testing free-speech limits but are inciting violence, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday.

People hold pictures of victims during a silent remembrance commemorating the 25th anniversary of an arson attack killing two Turkish women and three girls by right-wing extremists in Solingen, Germany, May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

Speaking at a memorial for the 25th anniversary of an arson attack that killed five Turkish girls and women and injured 14 in the western city of Solingen, Merkel said Germany was still suffering from “right-wing extremism” more than seven decades after the defeat of Nazism.

“Too often, the lines of freedom of speech are very deliberately being tested, and taboos are carelessly being breached and used as a political instrument,” Merkel said at the event attended by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at the Global Solutions Summit 2018 in Berlin, Germany, May 28, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

“It’s not banter, rather it’s playing with fire. Because whoever sows violence with words, risks reaping violence.”

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Her words appeared to be aimed at, among others, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), which entered parliament for the first time in an election last year amid voter concerns about a huge influx of migrants and refugees.

Some AfD politicians have been accused of racism by German lawmakers, and Turks in Germany said they would bring criminal charges against the AfD’s Andre Poggenburg after he called Turks “camel drivers.”

Hours before Merkel spoke, AfD lawmaker Beatrix von Storch drew criticism after she appeared to ridicule the deceased father of a Palestinian-German politician.

Von Storch had suggested in a tweet that Sawasan Chebli’s father would have had “serious financial problems” if Germany copied Austria in cutting welfare to people not fluent in German.

“If your intention was to hurt me then you have succeeded,” Chebli replied to von Storch on Twitter. “My father died recently. He was a good man. My God forgive you. He wouldn’t have wanted me to offend you.”

The tweet was later deleted. Von Storch’s spokeswoman said the lawmaker had removed the tweet herself, without giving further details.

Reporting by Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Joseph Nasr and Robin Pomeroy

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