VILNIUS (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday her coalition government would survive a row over the future of the domestic intelligence chief following his comments on the hounding of migrants by far-right activists in the eastern city of Chemnitz.
Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the BfV domestic intelligence agency, has faced calls to step down after he cast doubt on the authenticity of video footage showing the far-right protesters chasing the migrants after the fatal stabbing of a German man.
Merkel’s junior coalition partners, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), want conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer to fire Maassen over his remarks, but he has refused to do so, raising concerns that it could scupper the government.
“As important as the position of the president of the domestic intelligence agency is, it’s just as clear that the coalition will not break apart due to the issue regarding the president of a subordinate agency,” Merkel told a news conference during a visit to Lithuania.
Merkel is due to chair a meeting next week on Maassen’s fate after she, Seehofer and SPD leaders failed to end the row on Thursday.
“When the chancellor returns from abroad we need to reach a final decision on this issue,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauerenn, general secretary of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), told the rbb broadcaster.
Police have arrested two migrants, an Iraqi and a Syrian, as suspects in the killing of the German man, which triggered the worst far-right violence Germany has seen in decades as well as counter-protests by supporters of Merkel’s liberal immigration polices.
Maassen told the mass-selling Bild newspaper in an interview last week: “Based on my careful assessment there are good reasons to believe that (the video) amounts to targeted false information aimed at possibly diverting public attention from the murder in Chemnitz.”
This contradicted Merkel, who had said the images from Chemnitz had clearly shown ethnic hatred, which could not be tolerated.
Maassen’s remarks prompted accusations that he was too complacent in the face of rising xenophobia in Germany following Merkel’s decision in 2015 to admit more than a million, mostly Muslim, migrants fleeing wars or poverty in the Middle East and beyond.
Many Germans were alarmed by images distributed on social media of skinheads performing the Hitler salute during the protests in Chemnitz.
Writing by Michelle Martin and Joseph Nasr; Editing by Gareth Jones