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Rival protests reveal rift in Germany over immigration

Rival protests reveal rift in Germany over immigrationThousands of demonstrators staged rival protests over immigration in the German city of Dresden on Monday night, highlighting the deep divisions about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policies.

Pegida, the country’s largest populist anti-immigration movement, chose a historic square in front of the city’s Semper Opera to mark its first anniversary with its most elaborate event.

The organisers claimed to have drawn crowds of up to 39,000, fuelled by popular anger about the country’s unprecedented wave of immigration.

But independent estimates put the number at 15,000-20,000 — the same as for a pro-refugee counter-demonstration under the Hearts not Hate-speech umbrella organisation, which attracted bigger crowds than had been forecast.

The demonstrations come amid rising political concern about Ms Merkel’s “refugees welcome” policy, under which more than 50,000 migrants a week are entering Germany.

The inflows have prompted rightwing violence, notably an attack on Saturday in Cologne on Henriette Reker, a candidate in the city’s mayoral election who has been running local refugee services. Ms Reker, who went on to win Sunday’s poll by an overwhelming margin, was stabbed by a known rightwing extremist who is now under arrest.

Political leaders condemned the assault — and took the opportunity to criticise the anti-immigration right more broadly, including Pegida. Thomas de Maizière, the interior minister who has previously called for engagement with Pegida supporters, condemned the party’s organisers as “hard right extremists” and “ratcatchers”.

Heiko Maas, justice minster, said: “Pegida sows the hate that turns to violence.”

At the Pegida demonstration, Lutz Bachmann, the movement’s leader, announced that he was filing a criminal complaint against Mr de Maizière and condemned Mr Maas.

Speakers mostly avoided policy prescriptions and concentrated instead on praising the crowds for their support over the past year while provoking anti-Merkel and anti-immigrant chanting, including “Merkel must go”, “Deportation” and “We are the people”.

Towards the end of the demonstration there were sporadic clashes between rival protesters, despite the deployment of hundreds of police officers to keep the two camps apart. One Pegida supporter was assaulted and badly injured, said Dresden police in a tweet.

Another Pegida protester was detained for carrying a placard showing Ms Merkel in a Nazi-style uniform. Most stuck to the organisers’ plea to avoid provoking trouble. Not so one speaker, Akif Pirinçci, a popular Turkish-born German writer, turned rightwing activist.

In a speech laced with xenophobic comments and expletives, he at one point referred to “concentration camps, which are sadly no longer in use”, and called government leaders “Gauleiter” — a Nazi party title. While some demonstrators laughed, others turned away in disgust. “No hate-talk,” said one man.

Other speakers included rightwing Italian and Czech politicians, and Tommy Robinson, the founder of the English Defence League, a far-right group, who told the crowds: “Do not let Germany be dragged back into chaos and destruction.”

The counter-demonstrators, grouped under Hearts not Hate-speech, shouted “Nazis out” and “Refugees Welcome”.

Wolfgang Bradler, a retired engineer born in 1938, said he had come because he remembered the second world war. “There were piles of rubble along the streets. We cannot go back to that. We have to fight the Nazi Pegida people.”

He willingly gave the Financial Times his name, as did two other anti-Pegida demonstrators. None of the Pegida protesters approached by the FT did so.

Text source: Financial Times

Image source: Guardian
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