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20 Apr, 2017 14:40

Cologne imposes no-fly zone as 50,000 left-wing activists plan to block AfD congress

Cologne imposes no-fly zone as 50,000 left-wing activists plan to block AfD congress

Police and aviation authorities imposed a four-day no-fly zone over Cologne city center amid heightened security measures ahead of anti-immigrant AfD party congress. Over 50,000 left-wing protesters are planning to launch massive rallies to block the event.

The Alternative for Germany Party’s (AfD) convention is scheduled to take place this weekend at Cologne’s Maritim Hotel, but it is unlikely to go as smoothly as expected, causing more trouble to the far-right party already plagued by internal discords and shrinking popular support.

More than 4,000 police officers will be dispatched to ensure security in the city, a figure reminiscent to security measures during high-level international political events. Additionally, German authorities have imposed a four-day no-fly zone that will last from Thursday until Monday. All aircraft, including helicopters and drones, will be banned from flying over Cologne’s inner city, the police said.

The only exception will be made for German military and police flights as well as for any rescue or emergency aircraft.

Notably, a police spokesman failed to remember the last time a no-flight zone was imposed over the city, Die Welt reported.

The extraordinary security measures come as the city expects some 50,000 protesters to counter the AfD conference with organizers calling for “civil disobedience”. The activists, according to their campaign website, intend to “block” AfD members from entering the hotel by sitting and standing in their way. 

Aside from the no-fly zone, authorities are also set to cordon off adjacent areas around the Maritim Hotel. Businesses in the area were told about police barriers, and were advised to decide for themselves, whether or not to remain open during the weekend, Rheinische Post reported.

“However, we cannot offer 100-percent protection,” a police spokesman said, according to the newspaper. But Dirk Hansen, of the grassroots movement ‘Cologne against the right-wing’ told the paper “there will be no violence from us.”

The Cologne conference comes days after AfD leader Frauke Petry announced that she will not run for chancellor in the upcoming general elections. The party has also been rocked by a series of scandals involving controversial statements by some of its leaders questioning the Holocaust and even approving of Hitler’s policies.

The far-right party is also trailing in polls. A March survey by Forsa showed the AfD down 2 percentage points at 7 percent, which is the lowest level of popular support in that poll since November 2015, according to Die Zeit