One seriously hurt as thousands mass in Dresden for anti-migrant rally, counter-protest
Tens of thousands of people massed Monday in the eastern German city of Dresden in counter rallies over the anti-migrant movement PEGIDA, with one demonstrator left seriously injured in a brief clash between the two sides, AFP reports.
Police said in a tweet that a PEGIDA supporter was attacked by unidentified assailants, leaving him seriously injured.
Carrying placards with images such as a picture of burqa-wearing women with a big cross over it, or slogans like "Go Merkel: you give the Judas kiss", PEGIDA supporters gathered in downtown Dresden, the birthplace of the movement, chanting "resistance, resistance!".
"This has been a year of PEGIDA, a year of demonstrations. We are here. PEGIDA works," said co-founder of the movement Lutz Bachmann to cheers.
"Politicians insult us, they distort us. We are threatened with murder but we are still here. We will stay on to win, and we will win," he said, claiming that 39,000 supporters had joined in the rally.
Independent estimates gave a smaller turnout, with local newspaper Saechische Zeitung saying 20,000 were present, while Durchgezaehlt, a university group specialising in rally estimates, said around 19,000 had attended the rally.
One of them, Hannelore, told AFP: "We are here for our children and grandchildren. We are proud to be here and that many people are here. We are glad that people have the courage to speak out."
"Pegida is not a brown-shirt movement. Never," said the protester in her sixties, referring to the Nazis, adding that "Frau Merkel is driving our country against the wall."
PEGIDA -- short for "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident" -- started life as a xenophobic Facebook group centred around Bachmann, 42.
At its peak, the movement attracted 25,000 at its weekly gatherings in January, before interest began to wane, not least because of Bachmann's online racist slurs and the surfacing of "selfies" in which he sported a Hitler moustache.
But PEGIDA has seen some revival in recent weeks as Germany gears up to welcome up to a million asylum seekers this year.
The disapproval of Merkel's open-door policy to those fleeing war was clear at the rally, with some demonstrators openly sympathising Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's hardline stance to build fences and keep migrants out.
"Orban Yes! Hungary shows how it works," read one sign held up by a demonstrator, while the Hungarian flag could also be seen in the crowd.
Nevertheless, counter-protesters also sought to make their voices heard on Monday as they turned up in their thousands in Dresden -- Durchgezaehlt estimated 14,000.
Organisers had called on anti-PEGIDA activists to march towards the city centre, to gatecrash the xenophobic group's birthday party.
Hans, 75, told AFP he made it a point to be present at the counter-rally because "PEGIDA is celebrating its birthday and we think that it is very important for the majority of the population to not join PEGIDA, and to show that they don't agree with the movement."
Ahead of the PEGIDA march, Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated a call for citizens to shun "those with hate in their hearts".
"The chancellor has already reacted to such demonstrations in her 2015 New Year's speech, and I would repeat it here as it is unfortunately still valid: 'Don't follow those who have hate in their hearts," said Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert.