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Maas condemns Pegida rallies

December 9, 2014

Germany’s justice minister has condemned Monday's 10,000-strong protest against "Islamization" in Dresden. The demonstration against alleged growing Islamic influence over Europe passed relatively peacefully.

PEGIDA: Dresden
Image: Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke

On Tuesday, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas called for all parties in the Bundestag to jointly renounce a right-wing anti-Islamification protest in the eastern city of Dresden and a smaller demonstration in Düsseldorf. Those who took to the streets Monday for the Pegida protests included members of the far-right National Democratic Party and other anti-Islamization groups such as Hooligans Against Salafists, as well as nonaffiliated protesters opposed to migrants in Germany. The acronym Pegida is loosely the short form for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West.

"There are limits to the political battle of ideas," Maas, a Social Democrat, told Spiegel Online Tuesday. "All political parties should clearly distance themselves from these protests." He added that "we can't be silent if a xenophobic atmosphere is being built on the backs of people who have lost everything and come to us for help: We have to be clear that the demonstrators are not the majority."

About 9,000 counterprotesters had shown up on Monday to make just that case, including members of Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups, left-wing and anti-fascist factions such as Dresden Nazifrei, and students and pensioners. The interior ministers of Germany's 16 states have also announced plans to hold talks this week in relation to the protests, which have gone on for close to two months, though none had yet reached the size of Monday's. Officials have also announced an investigation into the makeup and motivation of the anti-Islamization groups emerging on the German political landscape.

Dresden: Pegida Demonstration
Up to 9,000 counterprotesters showed up, as wellImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Hendrik Schmidt

Pegida's website says asylum for war refugees is an "essential human right," but opposes religious radicalism and the formation of ethically or religiously separate "paralell societies" within Germany.

"The initiators of the protest are using xenophobic and Islamophobic sentiment to fan the flames of fear and prejudice," Ralf Jäger, a Social Democrat and head of the interior ministers' conference, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper in comments published online on Tuesday.

Politicians claim the boundaries are blurring between nominally "patriotic" groups such as Pegida and neo-Nazis. The protests follow a recent study that found that though extremism has dropped in Germany, ethnic biases have crept into the mainstream and a call over the weekend by a member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian partners of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU, for migrants to speak German at home.

mkg/sb (AFP, kna, dpa)