Far Right Numbers Swell As 10,000 Germans March Against 'Extreme Islam'

09/12/2014 11:34 | Updated 24 December 2014

German extremists converged on Monday night for one of the biggest far-right rallies the country has seen in years, with so-called "anti-Islam" marches now becoming a near-weekly occurrence.

Thousands descended on downtown Dresden in a march organised by a group calling itself "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West", known by its German acronym PEGIDA.

But the 10,000-strong demonstration was matched almost to the man by counter-demonstrators, who came out in solidarity with the city's minority population, though the state of Saxony, where Dresden is located, has comparatively few Muslims.

Huffington Post Germany reported fireworks thrown in the direction of counter-protesters.

  • Carsten Koall via Getty Images
    Supporters of the Pegida movement, including one with shaved head, hold up German flags as they march in protest
  • Arno Burgi/DPA
    The chairman of Pegida Lutz Bachmann, speaks during a rally organised by Pegida in Dresden
  • Pegida Supporters March In Duesseldorf
    Sean Gallup via Getty Images
    Pegida is an acronym for 'Patriotische Europaeer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes,' which translates to 'Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamification of the Occident,'
  • Sean Gallup via Getty Images
    Supporters of the Pegida movement hold up German flags as they gather to protest
  • Pegida Supporters March In Duesseldorf
    Sean Gallup via Getty Images
    'Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamification of the Occident,' and has quickly gained a spreading mass appeal by demanding a more restrictive policy on Germany's acceptance of foreign refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Sean Gallup via Getty Images
    Supporters of the Pegida movement hold up German flags and carry a banner with the acronym changed to Duegida, for Duesseldorf
  • Jens Schlueter via Getty Images
    Germany is accepting a record number of refugees this year, especially from war-torn Syria, and the country has also witnessed the rise of Salafist movements in numerous immigrant-heavy German cities.
  • Jens Schlueter via Getty Images
    The first Pegida march took place in Dresden in October and has since attracted thousands of participants to its weekly gatherings that have also begun spreading to other cities in Germany.
  • Jens Schlueter via Getty Images
    While Pegida disavows xenophobia in its public statements, critics charge that the movement is becoming a conduit for right-wing activists.
  • Jens Schlueter via Getty Images
  • Jens Schlueter via Getty Images

The PEGIDA protests drew little attention when they began just two months ago, with barely two hundred attending. But numbers have swollen significantly, even though speakers at the march attempted to distance themselves from the praise they have garnered from neo-Nazi groups, including the National Democratic Party.

Organisers claim the demonstration is against violent Islam and illegal immigration, not against the religion or its people.

"We love our nation, but are against socialism, so we are not Nazis," founder Lutz Bachmann has said previously. Bachmann has been accused by the local paper of being a former drug dealer, and admitted he had "a past" during a speech at the rally last night, intimating he would step aside if it proved costly for the movement.

Experts say the group has managed to attract people who wouldn't normally associate with the far right, by banning any neo-Nazi symbols or slogans and trying to present themselves as a mainstream movement.

On PEGIDA's Facebook page, organisers urged supporters to "bring your friends and neighbors and let us show the counter-demonstrators that we are not anti-immigrant and not anti-Islam."

Related demonstrations attracted fewer demonstrators, with about 600 protesters and 500 counter-protesters showing up at a rally in Berlin, and about 450 protesters and 700 counter-protesters at another in Duesseldorf, police said.

Student groups, political parties, Dresden's Jewish community and the city's mayor were among those who organised Monday's counter protest.

Nora Goldenbogen, chair of the Jewish community told HuffPost DE: "We Jews know".

"In this heated discussion many people forget that Dresden and Saxony have profited from migration and asylum for centuries," said mayor Helma Orosz.

A demonstration against Islamic extremism in the western city of Cologne erupted into violence in October, with 49 police officers injured.

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