BERLIN (Reuters) - The leader of the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has spoken out in favor of people arming themselves with guns and self-defense devices following a series of violent attacks last month. The anti-immigrant AfD has won growing popular support in Germany due in part to Europe's migrant crisis, which has seen more than 1 million refugees arrive over the past year, and it now has seats in eight of Germany's 16 state assemblies. After two Islamist attacks and a shooting rampage by a mentally unstable teenager last month, Germans are on edge and the AfD is expected to make a strong showing in votes next month in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. "Many people are increasingly feeling unsafe. Every law-abiding citizen should be in a position to defend themselves, their family and their friends," Frauke Petry told the Funke Media Group in an interview published on Saturday. "We all know how long it takes until the police can get to the scene, especially in sparsely populated places," she said. Known for her fiery speeches to AfD supporters, Petry sparked an uproar earlier this year when she called for German police to be allowed to use firearms against illegal migrants. Petry rejected calls to toughen up gun laws, saying this would affect respectable citizens and not those who acquire weapons in the so-called "dark net", which is only accessible via special browsers. Instead, she criticized "ruinous cuts" on police and said the state at lost its monopoly on the use of force in places. Germany has some of the most stringent rules around gun control in Europe. Firearm owners must obtain a weapons licence for which applicants must generally be at least 18 years old and show they have they have a reason for needing a weapon. Nonetheless, sexual assaults on women in Cologne at New Year and three fatal attacks have added to the feeling of vulnerability and prompted Germans to stock up on scare devices. The number of Germans applying for so-called "small firearms license", which are required to carry around blank guns and pepper spray, jumped 49 percent in the first half of 2016 to 402,301, according to federal statistics. However, permits for firearms fell to 1.894 million as of the end of June compared to 1.898 million a year earlier. (Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Dominic Evans)
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