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BERLIN — New Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Islam did not belong to Germany in an interview published on Friday, setting him on a collision course with Chancellor Angela Merkel who has stressed the need to integrate Muslims.
Seehofer also set out a range of hard-line policies on immigration, as the new coalition prepares to see off the rising challenge of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which entered the national parliament in last year's elections.
"Islam does not belong to Germany," Seehofer told the mass-selling Bild newspaper, contradicting former German president Christian Wulff, who fueled a debate over immigration in 2010 by saying Islam was part of Germany.
In 2015 Merkel echoed Wulff's words at a time when anti-immigration campaign group PEGIDA — or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West — was holding marches.
The German government estimates between 4.4 and 4.7 million Muslims are living in Germany. Many of them have a Turkish background, and many of the more than a million migrants who have arrived in the country from the Middle East and elsewhere after Merkel adopted an open-door policy in mid-2015 are also Muslims.
Seehofer — a member of Merkel's CSU Bavarian allies, who are further to the right than her own Christian Democrats (CDU) — said he would implement a "master plan for quicker deportations".
He also promised to do more to tackle the reasons people flee and classify more states as 'safe' countries of origin, which would make it easier to deport failed asylum seekers.
"Of course the Muslims living here do belong to Germany," Seehofer said before going on to say Germany should not give up its own traditions or customs, which had Christianity at their heart.
"My message is: Muslims need to live with us, not next to us or against us," said Seehofer, who was sworn in as interior minister on Wednesday.
Seehofer is anxious to show his party is tackling immigration ahead of Bavaria's October regional election, when the AfD is expected to enter that state assembly.