Thousands have gathered in Leipzig to take part in protests for and against the right-wing LEGIDA group. Police have also said that hundreds of hooligans rioted in a leftist stronghold neighborhood, destroying property.
The demonstrators assembled in Leipzig on Monday to call for peaceful coexistence and tolerance in response to a simultaneous anti-refugee rally conducted by the anti-muslim, LEGIDA - the local chapter of xenophobic group PEGIDA.
With candles in hand, the anti-LEGIDA protesters formed a "chain of lights" which stretched for 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) around the city center. Up to 2,800 people took part in the protest against the xenophobic group, according to observers.
"We have to take to the streets so long as people continue to make racist arguments," said Leipzig's Mayor Burkhard Jung during the rally. He said people in the German state of Saxony have "a problem with xenophobia" and that they need to catch up in terms of openness and tolerance.
At the same time, he condemned all forms of violence saying violence is "the wrong approach in a democracy."
LEGIDA draws thousands
LEGIDA members also took to the streets on Monday to commemorate the first anniversary of the founding of their chapter, as well as to protest against the recent New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Cologne.
"We are the people" "Resistance!" and "Deport them!" chanted the sign and flag-toting LEGIDA crowd. "Refugees not welcome!" read one sign, showing a silhouette of three men armed with knives pursuing a woman, while another declared "Islam = terror".
Dresden-based PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West) called on its members to also take part in the Leipzig protests. Even PEGIDA leader Lutz Bachmann was in attendance. According to observers, between 1,500 and 2,000 LEGIDA members took part in the demonstration.
Around 2,000 police were deployed to prevent clashes between left- and right-wing supporters.
Riots in liberal neighborhood
In another area of the city, riots broke out when around hundreds of soccer "hooligans" started rioting in the district of Connewitz. The neighborhood is considered to be the stronghold of the leftist scene in Leipzig.
Rioters allegedly set of pyrotechnics and threw rocks at display windows.
In a tweet following the riot, police reported: "We have arrested around 250 people from the 'right-wing clientele' after the riots. The situation is under control."
Tensions have been on the rise in Germany following hundreds of sexual assaults which took place on New Year's Eve in Cologne and Hamburg. The culprits were said to have been of North African or Middle Eastern in appearance - setting off a series of right-wing, anti-refugee protests.
rs/jm (AFP, dpa, KNA)