Over 10,000 anti-fascist activists have formed a human chain in downtown Dresden in anticipation of a neo-Nazi march. The demonstration falls on the 68th anniversary of the WWII bombing that destroyed the city.
Thousands of people formed a human chain in the eastern German city on Wednesday evening in a large symbolic gesture against right-wing extremists. No clashes were reported with participants of a planned parallel neo-Nazi rally.
Earlier in the day, about 3,000 police had been deployed in anticipation of violent clashes between the two groups. For several years, neo-Nazis have attempted to stage an annual march in Dresden, but their efforts were repeatedly hindered by anti-fascist protestors, many of them city residents.
Wednesday's demonstration coincided with the 68th anniversary of the bombing of the eastern German city, remembered as a disproportionate act of retaliation by Allied forces against Germany's civilian population in 1945, with the end of Hitler's Nazi regime and World War II well in view.
Speaking at the city's Heide cemetery on Wednesday, Dresden Mayor Helma Orosz expressed her dismay at the timing of the ultra-right demonstration.
"The commemoration of the millions who died in this war, of the destruction of Dresden, Coventry, Hamburg and Hiroshima will be kept alive in order to make reconciliation possible," said Orosz.
"It is unbearable that all manner of right-wing extremists are attempting to take advantage of the [day of commemoration] crusade of hate and revenge."
An estimated 25,000 civilians were killed during air raids that destroyed the city, known as the "Venice on the Elbe." Waves of British and US planes bombed the city over 37 hours, beginning in the late hours of February 13 and ending midday February 15, 1945.
On Wednesday, over 200 guests gathered at the Heide cemetery, where they laid white roses on the snow-covered ground for the victims of the war.
Fears of a resurgence
The threat of right-wing extremists has never completely faded into the background since 1945. While neo-Nazis groups are known to stage marches, there have been renewed fears of a real threat of violence from these extremists ever since 2011.
In November 2011, revelations of an underground terrorist group - the Nationalist Socialist Underground (NSU) - renewed fears of right-wing extremism in Germany.
The case linked 10 immigrants deaths to three neo-Nazis, as well as a number of bombing attacks and bank robberies. Police had previously thought the murders were mob-related.
Since then, the investigation into the NSU has drawn attention to what appears to be widespread negligence by German authorities who failed to connect the crimes to the group.
kms/ipj (AFP, dpa, epd)