Co-leader Frauke Petry holds a speech at the party convention of Germany's nationalist party AFD (Alternative for Germany) in Cologne, Germany, Saturday, April 22, 2017. The convention takes place days after AfD's Petry, who is Germany's best-known nationalist politician, said that she won't be her party's top candidate in the September general election, a decision that appears to reflect a growing split among its leading figures. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Battles within and outside German nationalist convention

April 22, 2017 - 6:51 am

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) — Germany's best-known nationalist politician on Saturday called on members of the Alternative for Germany to endorse her more pragmatic course instead of turning the party into a "fundamental opposition," an appeal that appeared to reveal the growing split among the populist party's leading figures.

Speaking in front of AfD members at a party convention in the western city of Cologne, Frauke Petry said that party needs to set the course for a "spiritual-moral change" in Germany and the rest of Europe.

The convention takes place days after Petry said that she won't be her party's top candidate in the September general election, a move seen by many as a consequence to the party leaders' infighting about the future direction of the AfD.

The convention in a Cologne hotel was overshadowed by massive left-wing demonstrations. Around 50,000 left-wing protesters were expected and about 4,000 police officers were on the ground in Cologne to prevent a violent escalation of anti-populist rallies.

Protesters injured one police officer Saturday morning while trying to block the hotel where about 600 AfD members were gathered.

The German news agency dpa reported that AfD party members could enter their convention center only with massive police protection because hundreds of demonstrators tried to keep them out.

Petry became co-leader of the four-year-old AfD in 2015. She ousted fellow founder Bernd Lucke, an economics professor, shifting the party's focus from economic issues to immigration and Islam.

AfD's poll ratings soared with the influx of migrants to Germany in late 2015 and early 2016. However, they have sagged in recent months as the issue faded from headlines and the party became increasingly mired in infighting with Petry and her husband, Marcus Pretzell, on one side, and other senior figures even further on the right.

Petry, 41, also irked some rivals by leading an effort to expel Bjoern Hoecke, AfD's regional leader in eastern Thuringia state, after he suggested that Germany stop acknowledging and atoning for its Nazi past.

With her refusal to become the AfD's top candidate on Wednesday, Petry ended months of speculation about her ambitions to lead the party's effort to enter the national parliament for the first time in Germany's Sept. 24 election.

She did not, however, suggest any plans to step down as party chairwoman.

German political parties choose lead candidates for elections who generally dominate their campaigns and, in the case of bigger parties, compete to become chancellor.

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Grieshaber reported from Berlin.

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