Baden-Württemberg: Germany's right-wing populist AfD was Sunday set to adopt a party manifesto calling for sharp restrictions on immigration and the practice of Islam, as a poll showed it is now the country's third strongest party.
Formed only three years ago on a eurosceptic platform, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has gained strength as the loudest protest voice against Chancellor Angela Merkel`s welcome to refugees that brought over one million asylum seekers last year.
With the migrant influx sharply down in recent months, the AfD has shifted focus to the signature issue of the far-right Pegida street movement, whose full name is Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident.
AfD leaders have stated that "Islam is not part of Germany" and on the second day of the party`s congress on Sunday were also expected to demand bans on Muslim symbols in Germany such as minarets on mosques, the call to prayer and full-face veils for women.
"We must not repeat the mistakes of the 60s and 70s and look abroad for labour migration," reads a line from the party platform taking shape at the meeting in the western city of Stuttgart.
More broadly, the AfD is presenting itself as a nationalistic-conservative force that also questions climate change, would push traditional "family values", reintroduce military conscription and take German out of the euro.
Having entered half of Germany`s 16 state parliaments, the AfD -- seen as the country`s answer to France`s National Front and Austria`s Freedom Party -- has now firmly set its sights on national elections next year.
"In the summer of 2015, they gave us up for dead," a triumphant AfD co-chair Frauke Petry told the 2,400-odd delegates, declaring that the party does not intend to settle for the role of opposition group or junior coalition partner.
Instead, its new programme should allow the AfD "to win majorities", she told the meeting in the western city of Stuttgart.
Support for the AfD stood at 13 percent, narrowly beating the ecologist Greens as Germany`s third strongest party, according to an Emnid institute survey for the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.The party has been at pains to distance itself from the hardcore far-right and neo-Nazi movements, which are a stubbornly persistent but fringe phenomenon in a country where collective shame over the Nazi era and the Holocaust run deep.
Alexander Gauland, leader of the party in Brandenburg state in the former communist East, cautioned delegates to generally temper their statements and "keep in mind that all of Germany is watching us".
To drive home that message, the congress voted with 52 percent support to dissolve the Saarland regional party chapter because of its deep links with right-wing extremists groups.
To its many critics, however, the AfD represents xenophobia and a backward-looking isolationism.
On Saturday hundreds of anti-fascist demonstrators rallied outside the convention centre, with some burning tyres and hurling firecrackers.
Heavily-armoured riot police used tear gas to hold off the protesters, many of whom were dressed in black and wore face masks.
Police temporarily detained 500 of them as officers escorted AfD members into the congress hall.
In another act of harassment, a left-wing media site overnight published the names, addresses and telephone numbers of some 2,000 party members.
AfD co-leader Joerg Meuthen pledged to file criminal charges against the unknown hackers behind the data leak.
Aside from drawing the anger of far-left groups, the AfD has also attracted near-universal condemnation from Germany`s major parties.
The general secretary of Merkel`s Christian Democrats, Peter Tauber, told the Bild am Sonntag: "The debates at the party congress show that the AfD wants to return to a Germany that never existed in that form.
"That isn`t conservative, it`s reactionary."