BERLIN – German authorities prepared for another far-right rally Friday over the fatal stabbing of a man that was blamed on two migrants, a case that has exposed friction between Chancellor Angela Merkel and top security officials.
About 1,000 people were expected at the demonstration in the eastern city of Chemnitz, far fewer than the estimated 6,000 who assembled the day after the Aug. 26 slaying. A counter-protest featuring an open-air performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was planned as a sign "against xenophobia, hate and violence."
The anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, was able to capitalize on 35-year-old Daniel Hillig's death. Several public opinion polls after the killing had support for the party increasing a percentage point, to about 17 percent.
However, the bump could be short-lived. The most recent survey, released by Infratest dimap agency Thursday, showed AfD down a percentage point to 16 percent support.
An Iraqi citizen and a Syrian citizen face manslaughter charges as the suspect's in Hillig's death, which has put a renewed a focus on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's welcoming migrant policies and revealed disagreements between her and top security officials.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer expressed sympathy Thursday for the protesters who were provoked by the slaying.
"If I were not a minister, I'd have gone to the streets as a citizen," Seehofer said, quickly adding: "Naturally, not together with the radicals."
Seehofer, who heads the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats, has long been to the chancellor's right on immigration, but his rhetoric has toughened as polls show his party struggling ahead of an October state election.
He told the Rheinischen Post newspaper that voters were linking their concerns to the issue of migration, which he called "the mother of all political problems in this country."
Merkel responded in an interview with Germany TV network RTL late Thursday that she saw it differently.
"Migration presents us with challenges and here we have problems, but also successes," the chancellor said. Merkel added that she was working with Seehofer to solve those problems.
New questions emerged Friday when the head of the country's domestic spy agency, Hans-Georg Maassen, said he was skeptical that far-right protesters in Chemnitz had "hunted" foreigners down in the days after the killing.
Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, described mobs going after people who appeared foreign. Maassen told Bild newspaper his agency had "no reliable information about such hunts taking place."
When asked about Maassen's comments, Seibert said the spy chief did not speak with Merkel before the Bild interview and that he had nothing to add to his own remarks about the Chemnitz protests.
Merkel has said images from the demonstration immediately after the killing "very clearly" showed hate. Authorities in Chemnitz reported several foreigners were injured in the protests following the killing.
The Dresden state prosecutor's office, which is handling the investigation, said Friday that video evidence from the scene showed "a multitude of crimes," including disturbing the peace, bodily harm and the public display of banned Nazi symbols or salutes.
"At the moment we have 120 cases from the 26th and 27th of August," spokesman Wolfgang Klein told Germany's dpa news agency.
He backed Maassen, however, saying that so far they have "no evidence of a so-called hunt" in which victims were pursued through the streets and beaten.
Frank Jordans contributed to this story.