Germans Split by 'Anti-Islamisation' MarchesWorld | January 6, 2015, Tuesday // 10:19| views
Participants of the right-wing initiative PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West) hold up German flags during a rally in Dresden, 5 January 2015. Photo EPA/BGNES
Supporters and opponents of a group campaigning against what it perceives as "Islamisation" of Europe have held rival rallies across Germany on Monday night.
There have been weekly protests by the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida) since October. The rapid rise of the group has alarmed the German government, with senior politicians condemning the group and Chancellor Angela Merkel calling its leaders racists.
When the PEGIDA demonstrators chant "we are the people," "they actually mean 'you don't belong because of your religion or your skin," Merkel said in her New Year address.
A record 18,000 people turned out at an anti-immigration rally in Dresden, according to police.The counter-demonstration attracted 3,000 people.
Pegida organiser Kathrin Oertel told the rally “in Germany we have political repression again”, referring to Merkel’s comments.
“Or how would you see it when we are insulted or called racists or Nazis openly by all the political mainstream parties and media for our justified criticism of Germany's asylum seeker policies and the non-existent immigration policy?” she asked the demonstrators.
In Berlin, police said that some 5,000 counter-demonstrators blocked hundreds of Pegida supporters from marching along their planned route tothe Brandenburg Gate.
A total of 22,000 anti-Pegida demonstrators rallied in Stuttgart, Muenster and Hamburg, according to the DPA news agency.
In Cologne, the famous cathedral was plunged into darkness as an anti-Islam demonstration attracted a few hundred marchers on the opposite side of the Rhine. The number of counter-demonstrators was 10 times bigger.
A poll for German magazine Stern published last week revealed that nearly 30% of Germans thought Islam was so big an influence on life in the country that protest marches like Pegida’s were justified. Germany has become Europe's top haven for asylum seekers and the world's number two destination for migrants, after the US.
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