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Hundreds of thousands of people marched in cities across Germany over the weekend to protest against the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, after members of the far-right group met with an ethno-nationalist figure to discuss the mass deportations of people of foreign origin including German citizens, the Financial Times reported.

Demonstrations took place in major cities, including Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt, with many protesters calling for the banning of the AfD. In some cities, demonstrators carried signs comparing the current political debate in Germany to the years before the Nazi Party came to power in 1933.

The uproar began last week when reports emerged that AfD politicians had attended a meeting with the Austrian far-right radical Martin Sellner in November. During the meeting, Sellner proposed a plan for “remigration” of foreigners and German citizens of foreign origin, according to the New York Times.

The AfD, a Eurosceptic and anti-migration party, has accused left-wing organizations and the media of a smear campaign. It has sought to distance itself from the scandal and has since dismissed some of its members who attended the meeting.

Even so, the party has gained popularity in recent months with national polls putting it ahead of all three parties that make up Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s governing coalition.

The AfD has sought to portray itself as a party for people disappointed with Germany’s current political establishment. Analysts note that its rising popularity is connected with a period of economic difficulties in the country, fueled by the loss of cheap Russian gas and falling demand for German cars and chemicals.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has labeled three regional branches of the AfD party as extremist, cautioning about infiltration by far-right individuals with intentions to undermine democratic institutions.

The weekend demonstrations came a day after Germany’s parliament passed a naturalization law that would fast-track foreigners’ paths to citizenship and permit dual nationality, Reuters added.

Scholz’s coalition deems the law essential to recognize society’s enduring ethnic diversity and attract migrant workers. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser emphasized the law’s necessity for the country to remain globally competitive for skilled labor against countries like Canada and the United States.

However, the AfD and the other opposition conservatives opposed the law, warning against “devaluing” the German passport and importing division.

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