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Anti-Muslim protesters rally despite Merkel plea

Updated: 2015-01-07 07:38
By Agencies in Dresden and Berlin (China Daily)

Massive crowds defending the country's inclusiveness turn out to block demonstrators

Defying an appeal from Chancellor Angela Merkel, protesters marched in several German cities on Monday against higher levels of immigration and what they see as the growing influence of Islam.

The rallies, organized by a new grassroots movement called Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, have become an almost weekly event in Dresden, Germany, in recent months.

Merkel had asked people to refrain from demonstrations she views as racist.

Some 18,000 people, the biggest number so far, turned out in Dresden on Monday, but similar rallies in Berlin and Cologne were heavily outnumbered by counterprotesters who accuse the movement of fanning racism and intolerance.

Anti-Muslim protesters waved Germany's black, red and gold flag and brandished posters bearing slogans such as "Against religious fanaticism and every kind of radicalism".

Most liberal rules

One poster in Cologne called for "potatoes rather than doner kebabs", a swipe at ethnic Turks who, at around 3 million, represent Germany's largest immigrant community.

Germany has some of the world's most liberal asylum rules, partly due to its Nazi past. The number of asylum seekers arriving in Germany, many from the Middle East, jumped to around 200,000 last year - four times as many as in 2012.

In her New Year's address last week, Merkel urged Germans to shun the anti-Muslim protesters, saying their hearts were full of hatred.

"We need to ... say that right-wing extremism, hostility toward foreigners and anti-Semitism should not be allowed any place in our society," Merkel said in Neustrelitz.

Only about 250 anti-Muslim demonstrators showed up in Cologne, compared with about 10 times that number of counterdemonstrators. Similarly in Berlin, police said some 5,000 counterdemonstrators blocked about 300 marchers from moving along their planned route from city hall to the Brandenburg Gate. Another 22,000 counterdemonstrators rallied in Stuttgart, Muenster and Hamburg.

Several public and historic buildings in the country switched off their lights as an expression of opposition to anti-Muslim xenophobia, including Cologne Cathedral, one of Germany's most famous landmarks.

Fritz Kuhn, mayor of Stuttgart, expressed "pride and joy" at the large numbers of demonstrators countering the anti-Muslim crowd, saying it was a clear political message for integration and against exclusion.

"Refugees are welcome in Stuttgart," Kuhn said.

In similarly multiethnic Berlin, some 5,000 counterdemonstrators swamped about 400 anti-Muslim protesters, local police said.

"Germany is a country where refugees are welcome, and the silent majority must not remain silent but rather go out onto the streets and show itself," Justice Minister Heiko Maas said at the Berlin counterdemonstration.

Xinhua - Reuters - AP - AFP

 Anti-Muslim protesters rally despite Merkel plea

Demonstrators protest against a rally by a mounting right-wing populist movement on January 5, 2015 in Dresden, eastern Germany. Counter-demonstrations were called for several cities against the group "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident", or PEGIDA, whose weekly anti-immigrant street protests have been condemned by church, business and political leaders. Robert Michael / Associated Press


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