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Thousands march in Cologne to protest xenophobia

The western German city of Cologne has seen thousands march in a peaceful demonstration against xenophobia and right-wing extremism. The march comes amid worries of rising anti-immigration sentiment in Germany.

Around 15,000 people marched through Cologne on Sunday afternoon to promote tolerance and open-mindedness, under the motto: "You are Cologne - no Nazis here." The gathering was organized largely in reaction to a recent rise in demonstrations by right-wing groups within Germany.

Some groups, such as the PEGIDA movement, have organized angry protests in cities like Dresden and Düsseldorf to voice their fears over Islamic radicalism. PEGIDA specifically protests against the "Islamization" of Europe.

It also follows a suspected arson attack in Bavaria on buildings intended to house asylum seekers, which police suspect was the work of the far-right. German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned that attack.

At the end of October, Cologne saw violent protests as self-proclaimed "hooligans" from rival football clubs and far-right groups held a protest against Islamists.

Cologne Mayor Jürgen Roters said Sunday's march stood against those riots, and sent a message that the city was built on "peaceful co-existence."

"Islam is a peaceful religion," Roters told the crowd, which consisted of political parties, trade unions, church groups, Islamic organizations and football fans. But he added that the city wanted "nothing to do with Salafists," an extremist sect of Islam.

On Sunday, a media report said the German Federal Police Office (BKA) has observed a significant boost within the right-wing extremist scene. The report, by the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, quoted a confidential presentation by BKA President Holger Münch to federal and state interior minsters.

According to the report, it's estimated 22,000 people across Germany are right-wing extremists - and more than a quarter of those classified as neo-Nazis.

jr/jm (epd, dpa)

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