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Thousands rally in Hanover against anti-Islam AfD party

German anti-migrant AfD party votes for new leadership as protesters march against its existence.

Protesters rallied with placards

Thousands of people have rallied in the German city of Hanover against the far-right Alternative for

(AfD) party, which is electing its new leadership in the city.

The demonstrators on Saturday shouted slogans and carried placards reading "Hanover against Nazis" and "Stand up to racism".

AfD won almost 100 seats in parliament in Germany's September's election, but two senior members quit in protest against what they saw as an unstoppable populist streak. 

It could become the country's official opposition party if Chancellor Angela Merkel enters into a coalition with the Social Democrats.

AfD's rise

Founded in 2013 as a vehicle to promote a eurosceptic agenda, the AfD has since shifted its focus to immigration and Islam.

Bernd Lucke, the AfD's first leader, resigned in 2015, citing concerns the party had become "Islamophobic and xenophobic".

The move was fueled by the onset of Europe's refugee crisis which, having reached its peak by 2015, provided fertile ground for the AfD to sow their scepticism of multiculturalism.

At the time, the party polled at around three percent nationally.

Under Merkel's leadership, Germany opened its doors to more than one million refugees and migrants, prompting fierce criticism from the AfD leadership.

Polls suggest the party will win seats in elections next year in the southern state of Bavaria and the western region of Hesse, which would give it a foothold in all of Germany's state parliaments.

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