Sunday

15th Dec 2019

Counter-protests dwarf German anti-Islam rallies

  • Pegida has been growing stronger over the past (Photo: Caruso Pinguin)

A record 18,000 people marched on the streets of Dresden on Monday (5 January) against what they call the Islamisation of Europe, but counter-protests outnumbered them all over Germany.

Launched in October, the so-called Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida) movement has been growing steadily in support over the past few weeks.

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  • Counter-protests want to show that Germany is still a refugee-welcoming country (Photo: Caruso Pinguin)

It organises "evening strolls" every Monday in the former east German town, where the far-right is more present than in other parts of Germany.

Neo-nazi marches are held every year in Dresden, accompanied by counter-marches, on the day commemorating the Allied bombing of the town.

On Monday, counter-demonstrations in support of refugees and a "colourful" Germany were held in Dresden and attracted 3,000 people, but in other major German cities, they outnumbered Pegida supporters.

In Berlin, police estimates that some 5,000 counter-demonstrators blocked hundreds of Pegida supporters from marching along their planned route.

DPS news agency estimates that a total of 22,000 anti-Pegida demonstrators gathered in Stuttgart, Muenster and Hamburg.

In Cologne, lights were switched off at the cathedral, as well as other churches and a museum, as a reminder that not all Christians support Pegida. The Pegida movement in Cologne was outnumbered by 10 to one.

In Dresden, carmaker Volkswagen said it was also keeping its manufacturing plant dark to show that the company "stands for an open, free and democratic society".

German chancellor Angela Merkel in a surprise reference during her New Year speech told "all those who go to such demonstrations: do not follow those who have called the rallies, because all too often they have prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts.”

Former chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schroeder, as well as finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble joined in, condemning the movement as intolerant and xenophobic.

Foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Pegida casts a "bad image for Germany abroad" and said that "those who chant their slogans on some streets are a small minority with a loud voice."

But immigration remains a hot topic in Germany, a country which has seen a surge in asylum requests over the past few years. In 2014, it processed some 200,000 claims, up from 127,000 in 2013.

And the movement has prompted copycat movements in neighbouring countries, with a town in Denmark, Haderslev, organising similar "evening strolls" modelled on Pegida, Ekstra Bladet reports.

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