A German magazine whose cover ­featured a cartoon image of US President Donald Trump beheading the Statue of Liberty has defended itself.

The editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel said on Sunday (5 February) that the cover image was a reaction by the magazine to threats against democracy. The cartoonist, Edel Rodriguez, said the image represented "the beheading of democracy".

"Der Spiegel does not want to provoke anybody. We want to show what this is about, it's about democracy, it's about freedom, it's about freedom of the press, freedom of justice and all that is seriously endangered," editor-in-chief Klaus Brinkbaeumer told Reuters TV after the cover caused a stir on Twitter and in German and international media.

"So we are defending democracy... Are these serious times? Yes they are," Brinkbaeumer added.

The cover, which was published on Saturday, featured a cartoon figure of Trump with a knife in one hand and the statue's head dripping blood in another. The picture carried the caption, "America First".

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of Germany's Free Democrats (FDP) and vice president of the European Parliament, called the cover "tasteless".

A German national daily newspaper Die Welt said it "damages journalism", while, another national daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, said it was "exactly what Trump needs — a distorted image of him, which he can use to work more on his distorted image of the press".

Meanwhile, Karl-Georg Wellmann, a lawmaker for Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU conservatives, told Bild news agency: "I urge everyone to calm down and to handle this with reason, rather than gut feeling."

Merkel was the go-to European ally for former US president Barack Obama, but the new administration of President Trump has criticised her policy of welcoming migrants.

The new US president has said she made a "catastrophic mistake" with her open-door migration policy. His trade adviser Peter Navarro also recently accused Berlin of gaining unfair trade advantages from a "grossly undervalued" euro.