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German AfD candidate steps aside after Nazi comment

The leading candidate for Germany’s far-right party in the European Parliament elections has stepped back from campaigning to try to quell the backlash after declaring that the SS, the Nazis’ main paramilitary force, was “not all criminals”.

Maximilian Krah said in a statement that he would not attend future campaign appearances and also resigned from the senior leadership team of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party with immediate effect.

The move comes as French far-right leader Marine Le Pen announced her party was making a “clean break” with the AfD, suggesting the German party had become too toxic an ally ahead of the elections next month.

Polls suggest that nationalist and eurosceptic parties will win a record number of votes. Voters are expected to punish mainstream parties for failing to shield households from high inflation, curb immigration or deliver adequate housing and healthcare.

Mr Krah said “statements from me are being misused as a pretext to harm our party. The last thing we need right now is a debate about me. The AfD must maintain its unity.”

The AfD, which had shot up to become Germany’s second-most popular party but has slipped in the polls in recent weeks, said it had suffered “massive damage” and that Mr Krah had taken full political responsibility.

In an interview published last weekend, he told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that “SS were not all criminals”.

The SS, or “Schutzstaffel”, was the main paramilitary force of Adolf Hitler’s party, and, among its many roles, took a leading part in the Holocaust, the slaughter of six million Jews and other groups targeted by the Nazis.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen

It appeared to be the last straw for Ms Le Pen, who in a radio interview accused the AfD of being rudderless and in hock to radical elements within it.

She told Europe 1 her party urgently needed to sever its ties with the German party. “The AfD goes from provocation to provocation,” she said.

“Now it’s no longer time to distance ourselves, it’s time to make a clean break with this movement.”

European Parliament hit by split

The split comes after the AfD has come under intense scrutiny over its policies and the conduct of some senior figures.

The public break with Ms Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) could test the far right’s push for a strong electoral showing and could put more pressure on the AfD domestically.

Ms Le Pen’s comments come a day after the RN, leading the race for the European Parliament election in France, said it will no longer sit with the AfD in the chamber.

The AfD has also faced mass street protests after senior figures attended a meeting where the deportation of Germans with immigrant backgrounds was discussed, and over allegations that it harbours agents for Russia and China.

Mr Krah’s own aide was charged with spying for China, putting more pressure on the politician, who tops the list of AfD candidates and would be the first to get a seat in the European parliament after the election.

Last week, a German court ruled that domestic security services could continue to keep the AfD under surveillance as a potentially extremist party.

The AfD has pushed back against racism allegations.

The party portrays itself as the target of a complacent, self-serving establishment it stands ready to sweep away.

The far-right parties in the European parliament are currently split between the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), whose de facto leader is Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni, and the Identity and Democracy (ID) group, spearheaded by the RN.

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