Anti-Islam demos spread to Berlin
Matthew Tempest · 5 Jan 2015, 14:38
Published: 05 Jan 2015 12:05 GMT+01:00
Updated: 05 Jan 2015 14:38 GMT+01:00
Calling itself "Berlin Patriots Against The Islamification of the West", or Bärgida, organisers are calling for a crowd of several hundred to assemble outside the city hall at 6.30 pm for a march to the Brandenburg Gate.
However, that figure is likely to be dwarfed by counter-demonstrations, organised by both the city's numerous anti-fascist activists and the capital's Turkish community - who hope to draw up to 11,000 marchers.
Police numbers are also likely to be deployed in large numbers to keep the two factions apart.
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Meanwhile, all eyes will also be on Dresden, as the weekly Monday night "Pegida" marchers resume for their first demonstration of 2015.
After drawing some 17,500 on December 22nd - their last outing - attendance figures tonight will be crucial in gauging whether the movement has peaked, or continues to grow in strength.
Chancellor Angela Merkel used her New Year's address to the German people to specifically criticize the movement - a criticism echoed by President Joachim Gauck, and other mainstream politicians.
In her address, Merkel - herself a former East German - singled out the group's appropriation of the symbolism of the anti-communist protests of 1989, borrowing the slogan "We Are The People."
She said: "What they really mean is 'you are not one of us, because of your skin colour or your religion."
Church leaders also came out over the weekend against the use of Christian symbols by the demonstrators.
“Apparently a Christian character of our culture is to be defended by shutting people out. Whoever talks like that doesn't know what he's defending”, former President of the Lutheran World Federation Bishop Christian Krause told the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.
“When I see people brandishing black, red and gold-painted crosses it horrifies me. That's really perverse.”
He was joined by former President of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) Nikolaus Schneider, who told the Rheinische Post that “Pegida is un-Christian starting from its objectives”.
“We can't defend the West if we decry Islam as the enemy”, he added. “Christians shouldn't go anywhere near these demonstrations.”
However, the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party have given the Pegida demonstrators qualified backing for marches which have - so far - been peaceful, whilst Merkel's sister Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) suggested all immigrants should speak German in the home and called for faster processing and deportation of asylum-seekers whose claims are rejected.
The Pegida protestors make a point of refusing to speak to the media - whom they dub "Press Liars" - and are largely leaderless.
However, Berlin's demonstration has been organised by Dr Karl Schmitt, a former CDU activist in the Pankow district of the capital. So far on the Bärgida Facebook page, some 600 people have pledged to attend.
A smaller offshoot Pegida protest is also planned in Cologne on Monday night, while a weekly march in Berlin's Marzahn suburb against the construction of temporary accommodation for refugees has been cancelled.