A rally against racism and xenophobia has drawn tens of thousands of people in the eastern German city of Dresden, which has become the centre of anti-immigration protests.
Organisers said about 35,000 people attended the rally on Saturday, nearly double the 18,000 counter-demonstrators who protested last Monday against the weekly marches held in east Germany by the so-called Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident (PEGIDA)”.
PEGIDA opposes what it claims to be the Islamisation of Europe and observers expect the movement to seek to make political capital from this week’s deadly attack at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and its violent aftermath.
“I didn’t come because I am against the people going to the PEGIDA demonstrations, but because I am not afraid of people whose skin colour or customs are … different than mine,” Helma Orosz, Dresden’s conservative mayor, said at the rally on Saturday.
During the rally, people carried signs emblazoned with the words “Help refugees”, “We all laugh in the same language” and “Germany is for everyone”.
Rally organisers also observed a minute of silence for the 17 victims in this week’s violence in France.
Launched in October with a march of just 500 people, PEGIDA’s rallies have since swelled rapidly, stirring anguished debate in Germany.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the anti-Muslim demonstrations, urging Germans to turn their backs on the movement.
Speaking after a party meeting of her Christian Democrats (CDU) in Hamburg earlier on Saturday, Merkel stressed the need for intercultural dialogue and warned against prejudice.
“We have made clear that the events in France, this barbaric terrorist act, are a challenge for all of us, for the values that we advocate, to fight for them,” she said, adding that people must differentiate between Islam and religious fanatics.