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Calls for tolerance after far-right party wins in Germany



BERLIN — Germany’s government said Monday that the country is shaped by values such as tolerance and respect, calling for them to be upheld a day after a far-right party won control of a county administration for the first time.

Alternative for Germany, which has come under scrutiny from security services over its ties to extremists, won a runoff election Sunday in Sonneberg county, about 180 kilometers (112 miles) east of Frankfurt.

A spokesman for Chancellor Olaf Scholz declined to comment directly on the outcome of the local election, but said that it was important to take people’s concerns seriously and engage in “civilized discussions.”

“Our country is shaped by values such as fairness, tolerance, decency and respect,” Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin. “This must be cultivated and practiced again and again.”

The victory of Alternative for Germany’s candidate, Robert Sesselmann, against a center-right rival was sharply criticized by anti-racism campaigners and others.

Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor and president of the Jewish Community of Munich, said that voters in Sonneberg had made “a dangerous decision,” but added that officials at the federal and state level also bore responsibility for the outcome.

Alternative for Germany, or AfD, was founded a decade ago and first entered parliament in 2017 following an anti-migrant campaign in response to the influx of refugees to Europe during the preceding years.

The party’s recent surge in national polls, to between 18% and 20%, has unnerved mainstream parties in a country where the rise of fascism during the 1920s and 1930s is still a core subject in schools.

Thuringia, where Sonneberg is located, was one of the first power bases of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party, after it became part of the state government there in 1930.

The state’s present-day governor, Bodo Ramelow of the Left party, said AfD’s success in Sonneberg showed that far-right populism seen in the United States, France and other European countries has also taken hold in Germany. Thuringia is one of three eastern states that hold regional elections next year.

Friedrich Merz of the center-right Christian Democrats, whose candidate lost to AfD, accused the environmentalist Green party that’s part of Scholz’s federal government of alienating voters by demanding tough measures against climate change. Echoing AfD’s strategy, Merz said his party would focus its attacks on the Greens.

Green party co-leader Ricarda Lang, meanwhile, warned against a “right-wing culture war.”

“It will now be the job of all democratic parties to prevent a normalization of AfD, because it’s clear that it remains a threat to democracy,” she said.

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