Protestors Confront Anti-Islam Party Conference in Germany

The convention takes place days after Petry said that she won't be her party's top candidate in the September general election, a move seen by many as a outcome to the party leaders' infighting about the future direction of the AfD.

Divisions have started to break out in Germany's anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party as delegates from the party rejected an appeal by one of their leaders to seek a pragmatic political path instead of turning into a "fundamental opposition" party. According to Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, more than 3,500 attacks were recorded against refugees, migrants, and their shelters in 2016, a sharp rise from previous years.

The Alternative for Germany's telegenic co-leader Frauke Petry had already announced last week she would not join the campaign squad, after weeks of bitter infighting between populists and more radical, hard-right forces.

Around 50,000 left-wing protesters are expected and about 4,000 police officers are on the ground in Cologne to prevent a violent escalation of anti-populist rallies.

"(Petry) has been unable to stop the AfD, which began as a party of euro critics, from becoming more and more a catch-all for racists, right-wing nationalists and the far right", Cologne's daily Stadt-Anzeiger said.

The AfD has seen its support plummet as the refugee influx to Germany has slowed in recent months after Chancellor Angela Merkel let in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015.

"The image of the AfD keeps getting determined by the uncoordinated extreme provocations of a few representatives who keep surprising the party leadership", she said in a video message on Facebook.

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner). Co-leader Frauke Petry walks on the podium at the party convention of Germany's nationalist party AfD (Alternative for Germany) in Cologne, Germany, Saturday, April 22, 2017.

And AfD seats in the Bundestag lower house - a first in Germany - would complicate the process of forming a ruling coalition for Merkel or her main challenger, Martin Schulz.

Subsequent security concerns and a series of terrorist attacks saw AfD support soar to 15 per cent in polls past year.

She suffered a blow on Saturday attempting to set the AfD on a more moderate course.

It was a strategic shift that yielded instant results amid a refugee crisis that brought nearly 900,000 people to Germany.

The vote was a disaster for Mrs Petry, who had thrown down the gauntlet to her rivals by refusing to serve as chancellor candidate, challenging them to risk fighting an election without her.

She did not, however, suggest any plans to step down as party chairwoman.

All of Germany's mainstream parties have ruled out working with the AfD if it clears the five-percent hurdle to representation in the 24 September election.

Funke said Trump's presidency, looming Brexit and the threat to Europe posed by Le Pen have served as a wake-up call for German voters, who may be losing their appetite for radical change.

Speaking after the vote, Petry said the AfD had made a "mistake" and added that those acquainted with the party since it was founded in 2013 knew that it was "exactly this lack of strategy" that was behind much of its internal strife.

  • Leroy Wright