BERLIN (Reuters) - Leading German Social Democrats and some conservatives called on Monday for surveillance of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) after some of its leaders marched with the anti-Islam PEGIDA group.
Some 6,000 supporters of the two groups demonstrated in the eastern city of Chemnitz on Saturday against the fatal stabbing of a man, allegedly by two migrants.
The case and subsequent xenophobic attacks have revived a debate over Chancellor Angela Merkel's liberal immigration policy and the need to crack down on far-right groups.
SPD leader Andrea Nahles told reporters in Bavaria that she backed observation of the AfD: "After Chemnitz, there are good reasons to do that. The AfD allowed itself to become a front organisation for radical rightists in the streets of Chemnitz, either willingly or unwillingly."
Bavarian premier Markus Soeder told the broadcaster ntv there might not be enough evidence to warrant observation of the AfD as a whole, but individuals could potentially be monitored.
He said he was troubled by the AfD's actions in Chemnitz, and rejected calls by some party members to relax gun control laws in Bavaria. "It's not just about an opposition party; they have a hidden agenda," he said. "We have to send a clear signal in Bavaria that we don't want what happened in Chemnitz."
AfD leader Alexander Gauland has said public anger after the stabbing in Chemnitz was justified, but that his party does not support extremism.
AFD SUPPORT RISING
The AfD, which won nearly 13 percent in last year's federal election, rose two percentage points to 16 percent in an RTL opinion poll after the events in Chemnitz.
Martin Doering, spokesman for the intelligence service of Saxony, where Chemnitz lies, said a decision on surveillance would be premature, and that it could take weeks to complete investigations into possible right- and left-wing extremism surrounding the Chemnitz case.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and his Bavarian CSU say the conditions have not been met to monitor the AfD as a whole.
Volker Kauder, a top Merkel aide, said on Sunday that comments by some AfD politicians inciting violence against media groups showed the party wanted to "attack our state".
But Stefan Mayer, state secretary in the Interior Ministry and a member of the CSU, said a crackdown on the AfD could backfire. "That may well give it a sort of martyr image," he told German radio.
Fifty-seven percent of Germans polled by the Civey Institut for Funke Mediengruppe agree that the AfD should be monitored by the government.
A court in the town of Landau on Monday sentenced an Afghan youth to 8-1/2 years in jail for the fatal stabbing of his 15-year-old girlfriend in the small western town of Kandel last December.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Hans-Edzard Busemann and Joseph Nasr; Editing by Kevin Liffey)