German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government spoke out on Monday against violent protests against asylum seekers in the eastern German town of Heidenau over the weekend.
"The chancellor and the whole government condemn in the strongest manner possible the violence and the aggressive atmosphere towards foreigners there," government spokesman Steffen Seibert told a regular news conference.
"It is disgusting how right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis attempt to spread their idiotic message of hatred around an asylum shelter," he said.
Hundreds of right-wing protesters attacked police in front of an asylum shelter near Dresden in the early hours of Saturday, many hurling bottles and stones, angry about the arrival of asylum seekers. At least 31 German police officers were hurt in scuffles when rioters blocked the shelter as about 600 asylum seekers were scheduled to move in.
Attacks against refugees and asylum centers in Germany have increased sharply over the past year. Officials say there were some 202 such attacks in the first six months of 2015, as many as during the whole previous year.
Just a day after the officers were hurt in violent protests against the asylum seekers, a Reuters photographer on Saturday night saw some 200 mostly drunk people in Heidenau throwing fireworks and bottles at police. Some shouted "Heil Hitler.”
Amid fears of a recurrence, police on Sunday started to set up a security zone around the shelter, an empty hardware store.
The situation remained tense on Sunday evening when police used tear gas to break up isolated scuffles between right-wing and far-left protesters, German media reported.
Dresden police spokesman Thomas Geithner told the Associated Press that by Sunday, when left-wing protesters drawn to Heidenau clashed with neo-Nazis, police had stepped up their presence from 140 to 250 officers.
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel is meeting Monday with local officials at the asylum shelter in Heidenau.
Interior Minster Thomas de Maiziere condemned the attacks.
"At the same time as we see a wave of people wanting to help, we have a rise in hate, insults and violence against asylum seekers. That is obscene and unworthy of our country," de Maiziere told Bild am Sonntag newspaper. "Anyone who acts like that faces the full force of the law."
Justice Minister Heiko Maas responded to the Heidenau violence by saying there was zero tolerance for xenophobia or racism.
Germany, which has relatively liberal asylum laws, expects the number of refugees to quadruple this year to 800,000. Chancellor Angela Merkel says it is the biggest issue the EU faces, tougher even than the Greek debt crisis.
Some of Merkel's conservatives want to curb benefits for asylum seekers and for other EU states to take up more of the burden.
De Maiziere said the EU had to agree on a list of countries of "safe origin" to make it easier to deport refugees, including nations trying to join the bloc and some African states.
More than one-third of asylum seekers in Germany are from southeastern European countries such as Albania and Serbia.
Some lawmakers have demanded more money for localities to spend on housing, care and education for refugees. Others want faster processing of applications from an average eight months.
Sorry, your comment was not saved due to a technical problem. Please try again later or using a different browser.