Clashes erupt at German far-right rally

German police fired tear gas and water cannons to keep apart groups of far-right supporters and thousands of counterdemonstrators trying to hinder their rally in an eastern city Saturday, police said.

Hundreds of leftist protesters in Dresden tried to break through police barriers, hurling rocks and fireworks at officers who responded with baton charges, tear gas and pepper spray.

About 1,000 far-right supporters were at three court-approved rallies or on their way there early Saturday afternoon, police said.

A far larger number of counterdemonstrators — supported by unions, democratic parties and civil society groups — were in the city trying to prevent them from going ahead, police added. Three protesters were arrested.

Dresden authorities said earlier this week it expects at least 3,000 far-right supporters from Germany and elsewhere and around 20,000 counterdemonstrators to gather.

The annual protest rally constitutes one of Europe's biggest far-right gatherings, usually held earlier in February to commemorate the anniversary of a deadly Allied bombing at the end of World War II.

Raids by British and U.S. bombers on Feb. 13-14, 1945 set off firestorms and destroyed the centuries-old city center. In 2008, a panel commissioned by German state officials found that the firebombing killed up to 25,000 people — lower than scholars' previous estimates.

City officials, state politicians, unions and civil society groups each year hold rallies — hugely outnumbering the far-right supporters — protesting far-right attempts to exploit the city's painful past.