German AfD MPs under fire for anti-Muslim New Year's Eve messages

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The deputy chair of the parliamentary group of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party Beatrix von Storch presents a bag reading "AfD? Appropriate disposal of right-wing agitation!" of the confederation "Standing up against racism" during a session of the German parliament "Bundestag" in Berlin, Germany, 13 December 2017. DImage source, EPA
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Ms Storch waves a bag reading "AfD? Appropriate disposal of right-wing agitation!" in parliament in December

Two German far-right politicians are being investigated by police over anti-Muslim messages on New Year's Eve.

Beatrix von Storch, deputy leader of the AfD party, had her Twitter account temporarily suspended on Monday after posting an inflammatory message.

She accused Cologne police of appeasing "barbaric, gang-raping Muslim hordes of men" after they tweeted a new-year message in Arabic.

Another politician is being investigated after supporting her.

Alice Weidel, one of the party's leaders, wrote on Facebook that authorities were submitting to "imported, marauding, groping, abusive, knife-stabbing migrant mobs".

Police say both women may be guilty of incitement to hatred. If so, they could face fines or a prison sentence.

Twitter and Facebook have deleted the posts.

AfD leaders called the actions censorship, saying the German authorities were acting like the Stasi in communist East Germany.

A new German law, which came fully into force on January 1st, means social media companies have to act against hate speech. Failure to do so could lead to fines of up to €5m ($6m; £4.4m)

Cologne prosecutors must now decide whether to launch an official inquiry.

Ms Storch's remarks came after the city's police force tweeted New Year greetings in a number of languages, including English and French as well as German and Arabic.

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Twitter suspended Ms Storch's account for 12 hours in response to her post, saying it had breached the site's rules.

She then re-posted the same message on Facebook, where it was also blocked for reasons of incitement.

Image source, EPA
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Cologne's new year celebration has been heavily policed since the 2015 incidents

Cologne has been at the centre of a controversy over New Year's Eve celebrations since two years ago, when a large number of assaults against women - allegedly by men from migrant backgrounds - marred the festivities.

The following year, police in the city came under criticism for questioning hundreds of men of North African descent.

On New Year's Eve 2017, a special "safety zone" for women was set up in Berlin for the first time.