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German politician beaten up during European election campaign

A candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s center-left party in next month’s European Parliament elections was beaten and seriously injured while campaigning in an eastern city.

The incident heightened political tension in Germany ahead of the election, and came as Europe’s center-left urged the center-right not to cooperate with far-right parties expected to win more seats in the European Parliament.

Social Democrats candidate Matthias Ecke was attacked on Friday evening (local time) while putting up posters in Dresden.

The party said he was taken to a hospital and required surgery for his injuries. Police said the 41-year-old was beaten by four men and that the same group apparently attacked a Greens worker minutes earlier on the same street.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, who is also a Social Democrat, said that if it is proven that the attack on Ecke was politically motivated, it would be “a serious attack on democracy.”

“We are experiencing a new dimension of anti-democratic violence,” Faeser said.

She promised “tougher action and further protective measures for the democratic forces in our country.”

Ruling and opposition parties say their members and supporters have faced a wave of physical and verbal attacks in recent months, and have called on police to step up protection of politicians and election rallies.

Many of the incidents have taken place in the country’s former communist east, where Scholz’s government is deeply unpopular.

The Interior Ministry in the state of Saxony, which includes Dresden, said it has registered 112 election-related crimes so far this year, including 30 against elected officials or representatives.

The far-right and anti-establishment party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is expected to make big gains, especially in the east, in both the European elections and the German state elections in the autumn.

The AfD belongs to the Identity and Democracy grouping, one of two far-right groups in the European Parliament alongside the European Conservatives and Reformists.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen suggested last week that she could work with the latter group to secure a second term.

The main center-left group, the Party of European Socialists, which also includes the German Social Democrats, issued a statement on Saturday (local time) calling the rise of the far right “a threat to the European project” and the rights of citizens.

“We call on all democratic European parties to firmly reject any normalization, cooperation or alliance with the far right,” they said in the statement, issued after a meeting in Berlin.

“We expect them to include this formally and unambiguously in their election manifestos and party statements.”

Mainstream parties accuse the AfD, which wants to roll back European integration, of links to violent neo-Nazi groups and of fueling an increasingly intimidating political climate.

A prominent AfD leader, Bjoern Hoecke, is currently on trial for using a banned Nazi slogan.

Tino Chrupalla, co-chair of the AfD, said his party “strongly condemns the physical attacks on politicians from all parties.”

“Election campaigns must be substantively tough and constructive, but without violence,” Chrupalla said in a post on social media, wishing Ecke a speedy recovery.

The AfD, whose rallies often provoke counter-demonstrations, says its members also face attacks and intimidation.

On Saturday (local time), police said they arrested a man who struck and slightly injured an AfD state lawmaker while campaigning in Norden, a city near Germany’s North Sea coast. The attacker also pelted the lawmaker with eggs.