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Anti-Islamization Rally In Germany Draws Counter-Demonstrators


The growth of radical Islam in Europe has led to a backlash against immigrants from the Muslim world. In Germany, anti-immigrant and anti-Islam protesters and their opponents have been holding rival demonstrations. The most recent were last night in Leipzig, where we find NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.


SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Supporters of the anti-Islam group marched in downtown Leipzig chanting we are the people.


CROWD: (Chanting in German).

NELSON: It's a slogan they appropriated from a pro-democracy movement born here a quarter century ago. That movement ultimately brought down the communist East German government. But last night, it was the future of the anti-Islam group called Pegida that was in doubt.

Its leader, Lutz Bachmann, stepped down yesterday after a photo of him sporting a Hitler mustache went viral, as did his online comments disparaging refugees. Organizers of last night's rally said nothing about that or disagreements between their allied groups. Instead, the leaders of the Leipzig affiliate railed against those who call them Nazis and repeated claims that they aren't racist. They say they oppose what they believe are runaway immigration policies in Germany.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking German).

NELSON: They also took turns complaining to the crowd about how thousands of supporters were prevented from joining the rally by anti-Pegida demonstrators and the German government.


NELSON: One of the speakers was anti-immigration activist and author Juergen Elsaesser. He accused Chancellor Angela Merkel and her ministers of hypocrisy.


JUERGEN ELSAESSER: (Speaking German).

NELSON: "I can't understand how they say we are exaggerating the dangers of Islam," he said, "and yet prevent us from demonstrating because of an Islamic terror threat."


NELSON: Elsaesser was referring to a Monday rally in Dresden that authorities canceled after an Arabic-language tweet threatened Pegida's former leader, Bachmann. Meanwhile, Bachmann apologized for his online comments referring to refugees as cattle and filthy. The 41-year-old butcher's son did not address the photo of his Hitler parody. A Pegida spokeswoman called it satire.


NELSON: But the 20,000 counter-protesters who turned out last night didn't find the anti-immigration movement funny. One of their organizers was city Councilwoman Juliane Nagel of Die Linke, or the Left Party.

JULIANE NAGEL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: She says their goal was to, without violence, keep their opponents from marching. But city officials put 4,000 police officers on the streets to keep the sides apart. Most of the demonstrators were peaceful, although authorities failed to stop vandals who damaged railroad property. That prevented a number of Pegida demonstrators from reaching the March. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Leipzig. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.