Tuesday

17th Jul 2018

Merkel criticises anti-Islam Pegida movement

  • Pegida's leaders have "prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts” says Merkel (Photo: consilium.europa.au)

German chancellor Angela Merkel is to use her traditional New Year speech to criticise a new anti-Islam movement in Germany.

In her most strongly-worded reaction to the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida), which earlier this month attracted 17,000 supporters in the eastern city of Dresden, Merkel will urge Germans not to heed calls to join the demonstrations.

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She says Pegida's leaders have “prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts”.

The speech, due to be delivered on Wednesday evening, notes that while Pegida's supporters shout "We are the people" what they mean is "you are not one of us, because of your skin colour or your religion.”

The Pegida movement was only formed in October but the size and nature of its demonstrations has shocked the political establishment in Germany.

Werner Patzelt, a political scientist quoted by German public tv ARD, said the language at the Pegida gathering in Dresden on 15 December, had become much sharper, noting that one of the speeches could be considered incitement to hatred.

Pegida members like to refer to their weekly demonstrations as "strolls" through the city. The group arose from a Facebook group started by Lutz Bachmann, a graphic designer. The first march saw just a few hundred turn up in October but the numbers rose quickly.

Demonstrators hold placards containing messages such as "protect our homeland" or "stop the Islamisation" while the group's leaders have been dimissed as 'pinstripe Nazis'.

Pegida, for its part, says it is not against immigrants or Islam but against extremism. However, the demonstrations have been supported by far-right and Neo-Nazi groups.

As the Pegida numbers have grown, so too have anti-Pegida demonstrations and speeches calling for tolerance and a multicultural society.

The head of the Protestant church in Germany, Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, said while Pegida supporters claim to want to "save" the Christian Western world, the real Christian duty would be to welcome refugees and give them proper housing.

Immigration has become an increasingly political topic in Germany as fighting in Iraq and Syria have prompted a sharp rise in the number of asylum seekers.

Manfred Schmidt, head of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, recently said Germany expects around 230,000 asylum seekers in 2015.

Authorities are expecting 200,000 asylum requests this year, a 60 percent increase compared to 2013.

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