Around 9,000 members of the anti-migrant movement PEGIDA, or Patriotic Europeans Against the "Islamization" of the West, took to the streets in Dresden on Monday to rally against the country's plans to take in people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. Germany could receive up to a million new migrants this year.
"Merkel is guilty," read one banner in Dresden Monday, accusing Chancellor Angela Merkel of "ethnocide against the German people."
PEGIDA emerged about a year ago, with several hundred people initially showing up for the anti-migrant "Monday strolls" in Dresden. The group's ranks swelled in following months, spawning similar movements in other German towns and cities. At their peak, the xenophobic rallies attracted 25,000 marchers in Dresden, but also sparked far larger anti-fascist rallies in cities across Germany.
The group suffered setbacks this year as its leadership bickered and Facebook selfies emerged of founder Lutz Bachmann sporting the moustache and side-part made famous by Aryan icon Adolf Hitler. However, PEGIDA has since gained new momentum, drawing upon German fears of new arrivals. About 7,500 people marched against migrants in Dresden last week, according to media reports.
On Monday, the mass-circulation newspaper "Bild" reported that German officials were secretly expecting 1.5 million people to apply for asylum status this year - about double the publicized estimate - though the government has denied that. Cracks have appeared in Merkel's right-wing bloc over the new arrivals, and the government has announced new measures to make the asylum process more difficult.
'Filth' and 'cattle'
Last week, German authorities charged Bachmann with inciting racial hatred by labeling migrants "filth" and "cattle" on Facebook in 2014. If found guilty, he would face fines and up to five years in prison.
Supporters have taken Bachmann's words to heart. "Islam is Europe's suicide," read a banner at Monday's march that showed a picture of a woman veiled in an EU flag shooting herself in the head.
Bachmann has said he will not be silenced.
mkg/cmk (AFP, dpa)