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Germany's Sorbs also face xenophobia, says Saxony state premier Tillich

Germany's ethnic Sorbs are also being targeted by extremists in its eastern state of Saxony, Premier Stanislav Tillich said. Anti-Islamization protests in Dresden, he said, were turning against "everything different."

Saxon State Premier Stanislav Tillich warned on Wednesday that xenophobic attacks on the Sorbian community in Saxony's Lausitz region had reached a "new dimension." He demanded that "every" incident, including slogans sprayed on street signage in Sorb areas, be investigated.

His remarks precede a meeting of interior ministers from Germany's 16 states on Thursday in Cologne. Their agenda will focus on refugees, especially from war-torn Syria, and ways to counter xenophobia.

Tillich (pictured above), who is himself a Sorb and conservative ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said during his youth in the former communist East Germany he had experience hostility, even at football matches.

German society, he said, was now preoccupied with rising refugee numbers and "some [extremists] misuse this situation and rail against everything different."

Sorb youth frightened

"That prompts some to become abusive toward Sorbs. I regard that as alarming," he told the newspaper Die Welt on Wednesday.

Last month, a police surveillance unit chief in Lausitz, Bernd Merbitz, said Sorb youth were frightened after recent verbal attacks by protagonists, some who were masked.

Landtagswahlen in Sachsen 2014 Merkel Tillich 29.8.2014

Tillich is a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats

Sorbs of Slavic origin settled in Lausitz 1,500 years ago and also live in the Spree region in Brandenburg State around Berlin. In all, they number about 60,000.

They are one of four ethnic minorities with special rights in Germany, alongside Frisians, ethnic Danes, and Sinti and Roma - also known as gypsies.

Far-right captilizing, says Tillich

Tillich accused the fast-growing anti-euro Alternative for Germany party, as well as the the far-right NPD party, which until recently held seats in Saxony's parliament, of initiating a series of anti-Islamification protests.

They had seized on worries among citizens about how to integrate and accommodate newly arrived refugees and thereby sought to "make political capital" out of the refugees' fate, he said.

What was needed was face-to-face clarification with citizens and education, Tillich added. "We need to remove the insecurity in peoples' minds."

Last Monday's anti-Islam rally in Dresden drew 10,000 people and 9,000 counter demonstrators including members of Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities, along with left-wing and "anti-fascist" groups and students.

Emergence condemned by interior ministers

The rally was condemned by German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who told Germany's parliamentary TV channel Phoenix "we have no danger of Islamization." He recently noted that foreigners in Saxony made up only 2 percent of the eastern state's population - though the numbers are far higher in western Germany.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas called on all mainstream political parties to distance themselves from "these protests."

"We can't be silent if a xenophobic atmosphere is being built on the backs of people who have lost everything and come to us for help," Maas said, referring to refugees.

The head of the regional states' interior ministers' conference, Ralf Jäger, who is the Social Democratic intenior minister in North Rhine-Westphalia state said a probe was being launched into the makeup of the anti-Islam groups.

Dresden's protests were organized by a group with the acronym PEGIDA, which loosely translates as "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West." Two months ago, its initial match drew only 200 protesters.

Members of the group have warned against an alleged Islamization of Germany and Europe, driven by large numbers of refugees and high Muslim birth rates. PEGIDA's website says it opposes "parallel societies" and religious radicalism of any kind.

Rise in asylum-seeker numbers

Last Saturday, the German Office for Migration and Refugees said 230,000 asylum seekers - many of them Muslims - were expected in Germany in 2015, up from a predicted 200,000 this year.

In some areas, hotels, former army barracks and schools buildings have been requisitioned to house those arriving.

Germany has long become home to more than three million people of Turkish origin, who form Germany's largest ethnic minority.

ipj/rc (dpa, epd, KNA, AP)

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