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Germany's Alternative for Germany (AfD) leader Frauke Petry receives applause after her speech at a European far-right leaders meeting in Koblenz, Germany, January 21, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

(reuters_tickers)

BERLIN (Reuters) - The leader of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) has called for the right to asylum that is enshrined in the country's constitution to be replaced by a non-binding right granted by grace.

More than a million migrants, many of them Muslims from the Middle East, have arrived in Germany since the start of 2015, and ensuing fears about security and difficulties in integrating the newcomers have swelled the popularity of the right-wing AfD. Germany will hold its next general election in September.

"We are in favour of the asylum law laid out in Article 16a being changed and think it must be transformed into a grace privilege granted by the state," Frauke Petry, co-leader of the AfD, said in an interview with the weekly newspaper Die Zeit due to be published on Thursday.

While war refugees must be helped, many who claim to be refugees are not, said Petry, who caused outrage last year by suggesting police be given powers to use firearms against illegal immigrants.

She said those who authored the constitution had been talking about "a very small number of people who post-war Germany should take in out of a sense of responsibility for the atrocities of World War Two".

She added: "There is definitely no obligation for Germany to ultimately shelter twice as many asylum seekers as all of the other European Union countries put together."

The right to political asylum in Article 16a of Germany's Basic Law (constitution) is considered fundamental and such rights cannot be abolished. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the fundamental right to asylum for those who are being persecuted for political reasons cannot be restricted.

Earlier this month her conservatives and their right-wing Bavarian allies floated the idea of a flexible target for how many asylum seekers Germany should accept each year as a compromise to end a dispute between them over immigration. [nL5N1EV3AL]

A poll by Forsa for German magazine Stern published on Wednesday put the AfD on 12 percent, up one point from last week, despite a scandal stirred by senior party member Bjoern Hoecke's reference to Berlin's Holocaust Memorial as a "monument of shame". [nL5N1FE2TD]

Manfred Guellner, head of Forsa, said the survey was another sign that a large majority of AfD supporters share radical right-wing views like those expressed by Hoecke.

The AfD is expected to clear the 5 percent threshold to enter the national parliament in a federal election on Sept. 24.

(Reporting by Matthias Sobolewski; writing by Michelle Martin; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Reuters