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Post-anniversary PEGIDA rally draws thousands in Dresden

The anti-immigration group PEGIDA has mobilized a large number of supporters again in the eastern German city of Dresden. However, numbers were down on the previous week, when the group marked its first anniversary.

PEGIDA's rally on Monday attracted between 10,000 and 12,000 people, according to the independent student research group Durchgezählt.

The group - whose full name translates roughly to Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West - gathered in a square of the Saxon capital. Some 1,100 to 1,300 counter-demonstrators turned out.

Lutz Bachmann, one of the group's original founders, addressed the gathering. He criticized the stance of Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, claiming it had made asylum policy decisions without consulting the people. Cries of "Merkel out," "Resistance" and "We are the people!" were also heard.

Germany has been struggling to deal with the influx of refugees, many from Syria and other Muslim countries, with up to a million expected to arrive this year alone. Merkel has been accused of exacerbating the situation by waiving rules requiring asylum seekers to register in their countries of arrival.

Left-right clashes

A demonstration one week earlier marked the first anniversary of PEGIDA as a movement, and the event drew 15,000 to 20,000 protesters. An even larger number of counter-demonstrators were estimated to be present - 17,500 to 22,000 in all.

PEGIDA's popularity appeared to peak early this year, after a series of gaffes and scandals badly tarnished its reputation. Since the migrant crisis, however, the group has seen its backing grow once again.

Sunday saw a protest by one of PEGIDA's more radical offshoots, HOGESA (Hooligans against Salafists) - a group of self-styled football hooligans that includes neo-Nazis and right-wing militants.

HOGESA supporters last year clashed with counterdemonstrators, with several people injured. This time around, some 3,500 extra officers were sent to the city, with water cannons eventually deployed to keep the sides apart.

rc/gsw (AFP, dpa, EPD)

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