Germans Rally Against Anti-Islam Protests

Germans Rally Against Anti-Islam ProtestsGermans Rally Against Anti-Islam Protests

Germans took to the streets late Monday to protest anti-Islamist rallies in the eastern city of Dresden, which grew to a record size, as Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the nation to shun racism.

Supporters and opponents of a group campaigning against what it sees as the "Islamization" of Europe held rival rallies across Germany. There have been weekly protests by the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West (Pegida) since October. A record 18,000 people turned out on streets at one rally in Dresden, BBC reported.

But counter demonstrations sprung up and the group has been condemned by senior German politicians. Thousands of people marched in Berlin, Cologne, Dresden and Stuttgart.

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

A total of 22,000 anti-Pegida demonstrators rallied in Stuttgart, Muenster and Hamburg, according to the DPS news agency. Total number of demonstrators was estimated at 30,000 across Germany.

But in Dresden, police said that 18,000 people turned up for just one anti-immigration rally. The counter-demonstration attracted 3,000 people.

According to a report by the Independent, anti-Islam demonstrators were outnumbered by 10 to one in Cologne as the city’s famous cathedral turned out its lights in a symbolic protest against the Pegida movement.

Lights Out

In Cologne, the authorities switched off the lights of the city's cathedral as a way of warning Pegida supporters they were supporting "extremists".

"We don't think of it as a protest, but we would like to make the many conservative Christians [who support Pegida] think about what they are doing," the dean of the cathedral, Norbert Feldhoff, told the BBC.

Only about 250 Pegida supporters showed up in Cologne, compared to thousands of counter-demonstrators.

“You're taking part in an action that, from its roots and also from speeches, one can see is Nazi-ist, racist and extremist,” Feldhoff said. “You are supporting people you really don't want to support.”

Much of the city center was also plunged into darkness as lights were switched off at major buildings and bridges across the Rhine, according to reports.

"Today, there is really a democratic sign being sent and a lot of people in Cologne are expressing their opinion," said Cologne mayor Juergen Roters.

"They want to stress that we here in Cologne do not want to have anything to do with right-wing extremists and xenophobic people."

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."

Merkel in Opposition

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attacked the movement in her new year speech, saying its leaders have "prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts".

Pegida organizer Kathrin Oertel responded in a speech at the rally in Dresden. She said that there was "political repression" in Germany once again.

"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?"

A poll of just over 1,000 people carried out by Germany's Stern magazine found one in eight Germans would join an anti-Islam march if Pegida organized one near their home.

The latest protest illustrated the depth of the challenge faced by the establishment and the many Germans who see their country as open and even eager to give shelter to refugees from Mideast wars and bolster the labor force with immigrants.

Since reuniting in 1990, Germany has experienced outbursts of racist violence directed against foreigners, often in the east, where nearly one percent of the population was non-German in Communist times.

Germany receives more refugees and asylum seekers than any other EU country. Many of those have come from war-torn Syria.