STUTTGART, Germany - Delegates from Germany's anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) on Sunday backed an election manifesto that says Islam is not compatible with the country's constitution and calls for a ban on minarets and the burqa.
The AfD, set up just three years ago, has been buoyed by Europe's migrant crisis, which saw the arrival of more than one million, mostly Muslim, migrants in Germany last year. The party has no lawmakers in the federal parliament in Berlin but has members in half of Germany's 16 regional state assemblies.
Opinion polls give AfD support of up to 14 percent, presenting a serious challenge to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and other established parties ahead of the 2017 federal election. They rule out any coalition with the AfD.
In a raucous and highly emotional debate on the second day of a party congress, many of the 2,000 delegates cheered calls from the podium for measures against "Islamic symbols of power" and jeered a plea for dialogue with Germany's Muslims.
"Islam is foreign to us and for that reason it cannot invoke the principle of religious freedom to the same degree as Christianity," said Hans-Thomas Tillschneider, an AfD lawmaker from the state of Saxony-Anhalt, to loud applause.
Merkel has said freedom of religion for all is guaranteed by Germany's constitution and has said on many occasions that Islam belongs to Germany.