Protesters block access to far-right leaders meeting in Koblenz

Protesters voice their anger about a meeting of European far-right politicians in Koblenz.

KOBLENZ, GERMANY (JANUARY 21, 2017) (REUTERS) – Protesters gathered in the German city of Koblenz on Saturday (January 21) to protest against a meeting of the far-right organisation

“Europe of Nations and Freedom” (ENF). Far-right populist leaders from Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands met in Koblenz to present their vision for “a free Europe” that would dismantle the European Union.

While some demonstrators tried to block an access road to the venue where the congress was held others put up cardboard figures of facist dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and others.

“We are sending a clear message with this protest: People from all over the world reject these old ideas, these facist ideas which are used by these right-wing parties. And we stand against them,” said Pascal Vollenweider from the Avaaz campaign network.

Marine Le Pen, who is expected to make it into a May 7 second-round run-off for the French presidency, is due to speak at the meeting, along with Frauke Petry of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD).

They will be joined by Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch far-right Freedom Party (PVV) who was last month convicted of discrimination against Moroccans, and Matteo Salvini of the Northern League who wants to take Italy out of the euro.

Emboldened by Britons’ vote last year to leave the European Union, the leaders are meeting under the slogan “Freedom for Europe” and aim to strengthen ties between their like-minded parties, whose nationalist tendencies have hampered close collaboration in the past.

Le Pen told France’s Radio Classique that the meeting was proof that her party was not isolated.

Several leading German media have been barred from the meeting, which is being organised by the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), the smallest group in the European Parliament, in a year when the parties are hoping for electoral breakthroughs.

Populist anti-immigration parties are on the rise across Europe as high unemployment and austerity, the arrival of record numbers of refugees and militant attacks in France, Belgium and Germany feed voter disillusionment with traditional parties.

The mood is mirrored in the United States, where Republican Donald Trump was inaugurated as U.S. president on Friday after running an election campaign with rhetoric that was widely denounced as racist and divisive.

In the Netherlands, Wilders is leading in all major polls before national parliamentary elections on March 15. In Germany, Petry’s AfD is expected to enter the national parliament for the first time after federal elections in September.