DRESDEN (Reuters) - A rally against racism and xenophobia on Saturday drew tens of thousands of people in the eastern German city of Dresden, which has become the center of anti-immigration protests organized by a new grassroots movement called PEGIDA.
“We won’t permit that hate will divide us”, Dresden’s mayor Helma Orosz said in front of the 18th-century Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady).
Around 35,000 people attended the rally that was jointly organized by the state government of Saxony and the city of Dresden, officials said.
The movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) is holding weekly rallies in Dresden with a record number of 18,000 people attending last Monday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the anti-Muslim demonstrations, urging Germans to turn their backs on the movement and calling their organizers racists full of hatred.
A recent survey, conducted before Wednesday’s deadly attack on a French satirical magazine, showed that an increasing majority of non-Muslim Germans feel threatened by Islam.
The Paris attack has fueled fears that it could boost anti-immigration movements around Europe and inflame a culture war about the place of religion and ethnic identity in society.
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.
Merkel who will take part in a silent march in Paris on Sunday also welcomed a decision by leading Muslim groups in Germany to organize a vigil in Berlin next week.
Reporting by Michael Nienaber and Andreas Rinke, Editing by Angus MacSwan