A German state interior minister has described anti-Islamization group PEGIDA as 'neo-Nazis in pinstripes.' But Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has rejected the comparison.
There were mixed opinions on Thursday as Germany's interior ministers met in the western city of Cologne to discuss the growing "anti-Islamization" protest group PEGIDA, whose German name translates to Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West.
Ralf Jäger, the Social Democratic (SPD) interior minister for North Rhein-Westphalia, described PEGIDA as "neo-Nazis in pinstripes."
"It is worrying that organized right-wing extremism is succeeding in drawing in people from the middle of our society who have a fear of Islamization and pulling on the edge of society," he added.
In response, Lower Saxony's SPD Interior Minister Boris Pistorius told the Friday edition of German newspaper Die Welt: "You shouldn't tar all PEGIDA members with the same brush."
Pistorius' main concern is that the right-wing scene will once again try to abuse irrational fears for the benefit of their political interests.
Germany's Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, are also reported to have vehemently rejected any comparison of PEGIDA with neo-Nazis.
"Stigmatizing" such a movement is "completely the wrong route," said Lorenz Caffier, the interior minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
In an interview on Thursday evening with German broadcaster ARD, Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere (CDU) called for the concerns of PEGIDA to be taken seriously.
De Maiziere agreed that there were "problematic developments" among initiators of the anti-Islamist group but argued that among PEGIDA protesters there were many who were voicing "their concerns over the challenges of our times."
The minister said it was true that some of these people "feel like foreigners in their own land." He called for more clarification and talks, as well as efforts to resolve the problems.
On Monday, 10,000 people took part in the alliance's latest rally in Dresden. PEGIDA has been protesting there every week since October.
Offshoots of the movement have now appeared in other German cities including Düsseldorf and Bonn, which is due to hold a demonstration on Monday under the name "Bogida."
ksb/jm (AFPD, KNA, dpa)