Merkel tries to calm immigration row in Germany
German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought Saturday to defuse tensions over immigration, urging citizens in a newspaper interview to get used to mosques as part of the country's changing landscape.
"One thing is for sure: our country will continue to change and integration is a duty for a society that welcomes immigrants", she told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Her comments come as immigration has been the source of recent heated debate, notably provoked by a controversial and popular new book by a central banker and politician criticising the integration of Muslims in Germany.
"For years we have deluded ourselves on this subject", Merkel said, but "mosques, among other things, will become an ever more present feature of our landscape".
She added that immigrants who did not make enough of an effort to integrate in the country should expect to be treated "firmly" and would "suffer the consequences".
"We cannot accept a parallel society in which fundamental rights such as equality between men and women would not be the rule", she said.
"Only the Constitution can serve as a basis for us to live together in tolerance and respect. Whoever wants to live here must accept that."
A furore broke out in Germany after the publication in August of a book by 65-year-old Thilo Sarrazin, "Germany Does Itself In", that said the country was being made "more stupid" by poorly educated and unproductive Muslim immigrants.
Sarrazin resigned from the central Bundesbank earlier this month but has refused to leave the opposition centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), despite moves to expel him.
Surveys have indicated that his opinions on the integration of Muslims enjoy considerable sympathy, and his book is a best-seller.
The controversy has raised fears that a charismatic populist in Germany, like anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, could win considerable support.
© 2010 AFP