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German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel presides the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke


BERLIN (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Monday equated the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party with the Nazis who ruled the country from 1933 to 1945, an insult rarely heard in national politics.

In an interview with Internet provider t-online.de, Gabriel said many German voters were considering voting for the AfD in a Sept. 24 parliamentary election because they felt their concerns about migration, security and jobs were not being addressed.

"If we're unlucky, then these people will send a signal of dissatisfaction that will have terrible consequences. Then we will have real Nazis in the German Reichstag for the first time since the end of World War Two," said Gabriel, a Social Democrat.

His comments were unusual given Germans' continued sensitivity to Nazi references, even 70 years after the war ended. Contacted by Reuters, the AfD had no immediate response.

Founded in 2013 as an anti-European Union party, the AfD shifted its focus after the euro zone debt crisis eased off and began to campaign against immigration, fuelled by Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision in 2015 to open Germany's borders to over a million migrants and refugees, many fleeing war in the Middle East.

The party has seats in 13 of 16 state legislatures and is poised to move into the national parliament for the first time, according to polls that show its support at around 8 to 11 percent, well above the required 5 percent threshold.

Political experts say it will be the first time that a far-right party has been represented in the German parliament.

Gabriel, who led the Social Democrats, junior partners in Merkel's "grand coalition", until earlier this year, said the AfD was gaining strength in the neglected communities and villages of the former communist East Germany.

"We must change course and not only reimburse the cost of taking in migrants, but also give local communities the same amount on top so they can do more for their citizens," he said.

Merkel, whose CDU/CSU conservatives are leading the SPD by double digits in opinion polls, looks poised to win a fourth term. Both her camp and the Social Democrats have ruled out governing in coalition with the AfD.

Gabriel spoke highly of cooperation with Merkel in a separate interview with broadcaster ARD, although he said she could be impatient and "a little aggressive" in discussions, especially if they dragged on for a long time.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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