OSTRITZ, Germany: Hundreds of neo-Nazis were massing late on Friday on Adolf Hitler’s birthday for a two-day festival in a remote eastern German town where citizens and anti-fascist groups staged spirited counter-protests.
Many of the mostly male right-wing extremists wore T-shirts with slogans such as "Keepers of the Race", "White is my favourite colour" and "Adolf was the best" while the event was guarded by a group called "Aryan Brotherhood".
Hundreds of armoured police ringed the site of the "Schild und Schwert" (Shield and Sword, or SS) festival near the Polish and Czech borders that was expected to also attract eastern European extremists.
Police were backed by water cannon and armoured vehicles, mounted patrols and boats patrolling the Neisse border river, on the western banks of which the shaven-headed and often heavily tattooed attendees were pitching their tents or parking camper-vans.
Organisers argue that the "Reconquista Europa" festival -- featuring far-right music, speeches, martial arts, a tattoo convention and merchandise stalls -- is a political event, granting it legal protection under the German constitution.
They said they expected about 1,000 participants.
The event comes as Germany, after a mass influx of asylum seekers since 2015, is witnessing a revival of far-right and ultra-nationalist groups and has seen the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) enter parliament.
Hundreds of people also flocked to two counter-demonstrations held well away from the far-right festival in separate parts of Ostritz, a town of 2,300 people, in a remote region of the ex-communist eastern state of Saxony.
Saxony state premier Michael Kretschmer said he was proud that citizens, churches, parties and unions organised opposition. He spoke at a "Peace Festival" with choir music, food stalls, an Arabic cafe and signs praising diversity and multiculturalism.
"The fight against right-wing extremism must come from the middle of society," he said.
"I’m very happy that local authorities and police have found ways to make things difficult for the concert, so hopefully they won’t come back here again.
"We don’t want these people here."
"Facism is not an opinion , it’s a crime," said an organiser of another gathering, Mirko Schultze, 50, who is also a Saxony state politician of the far-left Die Linke party.
"This is a meeting of the European extreme right," he said. "We’re trying to occupy the public space around the hotel site to make clear that we defend democracy here, because otherwise Ostritz will become their new meeting ground."
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