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Europe

Numbers drop as PEGIDA rally returns to Dresden

Several thousand people have joined a march organized by anti-Islamization group PEGIDA in the German city of Dresden. But numbers were down compared with a record attendance almost two weeks ago.

There was a strong police presence in Dresden's city center on Sunday, as the group calling itself "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West," or PEGIDA, went ahead with its weekly march.

The event kicked off at 2:30 p.m. local time (13:30 UTC) in Theater Square, outside the historic Semperoper opera house. Police said 17,500 PEGIDA supporters were in attendance, while around 5,000 people joined a smaller counter demonstration at the nearby cathedral. Authorities said several small scuffles broke out between the two groups.

The PEGIDA movement was founded in Dresden, and has held weekly Monday demonstrations there since late October.

The group's march on January 12 drew its largest-ever crowd of 25,000 people, but the rally scheduled for last Monday, January 19, was called off after a terror threat was made against PEGIDA co-founder Lutz Bachmann.

He has since resigned from his post after a photo of him posing as Adolf Hitler was published on Facebook together with racist slurs targeting refugees.

The organizers said they had switched this week's rally from the usual Monday date to avoid clashing with a planned anti-xenophobia concert called "Open and Colorful - Dresden for Everyone" in Dresden's city center.

Anti-PEGIDA demonstrations in other German cities besides Dresden have generally attracted larger crowds than the PEGIDA demonstrations themselves.

PEGIDA harming Germany's image

Police cars in Dresden's city center

Heavy police presence in Dresden

Hours before the 13th Dresden PEGIDA rally got underway, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned the group's anti-Muslim sentiments were tarnishing Germany's image abroad.

"At home we underestimate the damage that PEGIDA's xenophobic and racist slogans and placards have already had," Steinmeier said in an interview with daily newspaper Bild.

"Whether we want it or not, the world is watching Germany with great attention," he said.

PEGIDA's organizers insist they are not racist, but merely protest against radical Islamists.

nm/bw (dpa, epd, AFP)

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