Record crowd turn up for PEGIDA rally

‘Today Paris, tomorrow Dresden,’ read one sign. Another’s message was: ‘Better to stand tall for Pegida today than to be on your knees for Mecca tomorrow’

The latest mass-rally of the self-styled “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West” came just hours after the chancellor Angela Merkel said that “Islam has a place in Germany.” German politicians previously called on Pegida to cancel their weekly march.

But in Germany, citizens are increasingly worried, with 57% of non-Muslims seeing Islam as a threat.

Overall, 61 percent of Germans say Islam isn’t compatible with life in the West, up from 52 percent three years ago. The country has 4 million Muslims out of a population of 81 million.

“There’s deep frustration over the silent Islamization taking place in Germany,” said Gerd Medger, 67, who advises companies seeking business contacts in Brazil and attended the Dresden rally waving a German flag. “If our governments let such violent people into Europe then we shouldn’t be surprised at these acts of violence.”

PEGIDA has said on its Facebook page that the killings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris confirmed its own views.

“The Islamists, which PEGIDA has been warning about for 12 weeks, showed France that they are not capable of democracy but rather look to violence and death as an answer,” it said.

The supporters of the populist movement claim solidarity with victims of the Paris attacks, with some of them carrying signs that read “They can’t kill our freedom” and “Je suis Charlie.”

According to the police estimates, some 25,000 people gathered in an anti-immigration rally in Dresden.

Besides Dresden, which serves as a central city for the movement, marches are organized in several other cities, including Berlin, Munchen, and, for the first time, Leipzig.

The number of people protesting against PEGIDA is also growing every week.

Monday’s rallies come ahead of a planned vigil for “tolerance and openness” in Berlin,which is set for Tuesday.

Germany’s Muslim leaders, with Chancellor Angela Merkel as well leaders of Germany’s Jewish community will attend.

“Politics cannot ignore this: they have to do something even if it’s only symbolic on immigration or security,” Joerg Forbrig, the senior program director at the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., said by phone from Berlin.“The CDU must take this seriously. They have to preempt the AfD otherwise there will be a stronger momentum building behind the party.”

Swiss activists have founded a local branch of the popular German anti-Muslim PEGIDA movement. The group is boasting a fast growth in supporters and plans to hold a demonstration next month.

The Swiss branch of PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) was launched two days after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine.

The PEGIDA group’s Facebook page calls on potential supporters to come to a demonstration planned for February 16 at an as yet undisclosed location.

The spokesman for Swiss PEGIDA is Ignaz Bearth, current head of the Swiss Direct Democracy Party, a small party with links to France’s Front National party, according to AFP. He is also a former member of the far-right Swiss Nationalist Party.