Angela Merkel removes German spy chief to quell racism row which threatened her leadership

18 September 2018, 21:17 | Updated: 18 September 2018, 22:37

Germany's leader Angela Merkel has removed her spy chief to end a row over immigration which threatened to destroy her fragile coalition.

Hans-Georg Maassen was transferred from his role as head of the domestic intelligence agency (BfV) after saying he doubted the authenticity of reports of far-right hooligans and neo-Nazis randomly attacking immigrants in Chemnitz last month.

The 55-year-old politician has been made deputy head of the interior ministry - a promotion - as Chancellor Merkel sought to quell a fight with her coalition partners over the issue.

It was not immediately clear who will replace him as head of the BfV.

Mrs Merkel's junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats, had demanded Mr Maassen be removed, while the controversial conservative interior minister Horst Seehofer - now his direct boss - backed him.

The government released a statement which said: "In future Mr Maassen will become a state secretary in the interior ministry.

"Interior minister Horst Seehofer has high regard for Mr Maassen's abilities on questions of domestic security, but he will not be responsible for the BfV within the ministry."

Anger over Mr Maassen's accusation has been rumbling on for weeks as it threatened to destroy Mrs Merkel's coalition, already delicate after her open-door migrant policy allowed more than a million migrants into Germany in 2015.

Mr Maassen was also criticised for sharing sensitive information about security priorities with the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

The far-right attacks in the eastern city of Chemnitz started after a Syrian man was held over the fatal stabbing of a German man.

Police were searching for an Iraqi man and another initial Iraqi suspect was released on Tuesday.

Thousands of people demonstrated both for and against migrants after violence flared up following the arrests.

Leading opposition figures were scathing about how Mrs Merkel dealt with Mr Maassen.

Dietmar Bartsch, head of the far-left Die Linke, said: "That he has in practice been promoted and that the SPD supports this, is a farce."

Greens co-leader Katrin Goering-Eckardt tweeted that anyone who rewarded instead of punished Mr Maassen for "cosying up to the AfD" had "lost all sense of decency".