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Some 15,000 people have marched through the eastern German city of Dresden in an anti-Islamization demonstration. The march, which was largely peaceful, was the largest yet for the PEGIDA movement.
A record number of demonstrators turned out on Monday to march in support of the PEGIDA group. Its name loosely translates to "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West."
"The people are with us!," the group's founder Lutz Bachmann shouted at the crowd. Monday's turnout was 50 percent greater than that of a week ago. The rallies started in October in response to clashes between Kurds and Sunni Muslims over the West's intervention in Syria.
But the group has largely been protesting over the immigration system in Germany, which has become Europe's number one destination for asylum-seekers - whose lands of origin include largely Muslim countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as several African and Balkan nations.
The emergence of the movement has stunned politicians, one of whom - Ralf Jäger, the Social Democratic (SPD) interior minister for North Rhine Westphalia state - described PEGIDA's members as "neo-Nazis in pinstripes." While some neo-Nazis have been seen among the crowds, those gathered have mostly been disenchanted citizens.
More than 1,200 police kept a close watch on the non-violent crowds. Nearby, about 6,000 counter-protesters - made up of civic, political and church groups - marched under the banners "Dresden Nazi-free" and "Dresden for All."
Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the wave of PEGIDA marches and cautioned Germans against falling prey to "rabble rousing."
An associated BOGIDA protest took place in the western city of Bonn on Monday. While approximately 300 of the group's supporters turned up, they were met by 2,000 counter demonstrators who called for peace and tolerance.
The BOGIDA demonstrators were unable to start their march, as they were blocked by police and the counter demonstrators.
jr/mg (AFP, AP)