BERLIN, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) -- German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday heavily criticized the anti-immigration populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) for controversial comments made by its regional leader in Saxony-Anhalt Andre Poggenburg earlier.
"What I see is that there are politicians who make use of excessive language, ruthlessness and hatred as their own strategy," Steinmeier said during a visit to the town of Halle in Poggenburg's home state on Thursday.
"I can only hope that the citizens do not allow themselves to be fooled by these tactics," the president added. Steinmeier further called on politicians to be "aware of their role model character and behave accordingly".
The German president's criticism was a response to public statements made by Poggenburg on Wednesday during a seasonal carnival event in which he described people of Turkish origin in Germany as a "homeless mob".
"Those camel drivers should go back to where they belong, far, far behind the Bosporus to their mud huts and multiple wives," the AfD politician told an audience of party supporters. The crowd met Poggenburg's racist tirade with cheers.
It was not the first time that Poggenburg drew attention to himself for the use of extreme language. Back in 2017, Poggenburg had provoked widespread outrage by using the Neo-Nazi slogan "Germany for Germans" on an internal AfD chat.
Reacting to yet another angry backlash on Thursday, Poggenburg said that he had only formulated his speech "so trenchantly" because of the informal nature of the seasonal festivity.
The AfD politician argued that he had never intended to "directly insult or degrade other nationalities".
However, even fellow AfD politicians criticized Poggenburg for his choice of words on Thursday.
AfD co-leader Joerg Meuthen said that the comments in question were "far too extreme and should not have been made".
Similarly, AfD regional politician Frank Hansel questioned whether Poggenburg was trying to lower the standing of the party in opinion polls.
"Are our AfD polling figures too high again that we need to purposefully push them down again ourselves?" Hansel asked laconically. "With friends like these, who needs enemies?"
Holger Stahlknecht, vice-president of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Saxony-Anhalt, warned that individuals like Poggenburg were gradually transforming the AfD into a Neo-Nazi party. "If Poggenburg stays, the AfD is on a journey into a right-wing extremist abyss," Stahlknecht said.