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BERLIN (Reuters) - New Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Islam does not belong to Germany, and set out hardline immigration policies in his first major interview since being sworn in this week, as he sought to see off rising far-right challengers.
His comments put him on a collision course with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who on Friday reiterated her long-held view that Islam was a part of Germany, even if the country was traditionally characterized by Christianity and Judaism.
“Islam does not belong to Germany,” Seehofer, a member of Merkel’s CSU Bavarian allies who are further to the right than her own Christian Democrats (CDU), told Bild newspaper in an interview published on Friday.
Seehofer said he would push through a “master plan for quicker deportations” and classify more states as ‘safe’ countries of origin, which would make it easier to deport failed asylum seekers.
Seehofer is particularly keen to show his party is tackling immigration ahead of Bavaria’s October regional election, when the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is expected to enter that state assembly.
Both Merkel’s conservatives and their centre-left coalition partners - the Social Democrats - lost ground to the anti-immigrant AfD in September’s national election following the arrival in Germany of more than a million migrants and refugees.
Merkel, who has faced strong criticism from some Germans as well as elsewhere in Europe for agreeing to take in so many migrants, most of them Muslims, reaffirmed on Friday her vision of an inclusive, multi-ethnic Germany.
“There are now four million Muslims living in Germany and they practice their religion here and these Muslims belong to Germany, as does their religion - Islam,” she said.
Many of the Muslims living in Germany are of Turkish origin. But a majority of those who have arrived in the past three years are from Syria, Iraq and other conflict zones in the Middle East and beyond.Read More...