Two months ago when the PEGIDA movement formed in Germany it had only a few hundred followers.
The name is an acronym in German, standing for ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West’.
More and more people in the eastern city of Dresden have flocked to join Monday rallies. Just before Christmas they numbered more than 17,000.
Pegida founder Lutz Bachmann has attracted support from some on the far-right as well as ordinary Germans alarmed by a rise in refugee arrivals.
Lutz said: “Germany is not a land of immigration. Integration does not mean living side-by-side, but together on the basis of the Judeo-Christian merits of our constitution and our German culture with its Christian-Jewish roots, determined by humanism and enlightenment.”
Lutz says he started the movement because he was disgusted by Kurds in Germany demonstrating against the war in Syria and clashing with Salafist opponents. Pegida accuses the German government of fostering immigration policies that are not conservative enough.
Flag-wavers shout slogans calling asylum seekers ‘criminals’. Critics of Pegida condemn it as a call to arms by far-right populists.
A poll by German public-service television found a large majority of Germans harbour negative attitudes toward immigrants.
This anti-immigrant protester says: “Look at asylum seekers’ homes: men only. They are criminals who left their families behind in the war”
Asylum-seekers’ first choice destination, Germany took in 200,000 refugees in 2014, which was 60 percent more than the year before.
Newsmagazine Stern found 29 percent of people thought Islamic influence in Germany justified the Pegida marches.
In a New Year speech, Chancellor Angela Merkel stood up for openness towards victims of conflicts and crises: “Do not follow those calls of prejudice, cold and hatred,” she said in reference to the demonstrators.
In a counter-protest, including many Christians voicing support for asylum seekers, the Catholic authorities in Cologne turned out the floodlights that normally bathe the landmark cathedral as a warning not to let darkness take over.
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