DRESDEN (Reuters) - The German anti-Islam group PEGIDA, whose rallies have brought up to 25,000 onto the streets of Dresden in recent weeks, appeared to be all but finished on Thursday after five of its founding members said they were setting up a rival movement.
After quitting PEGIDA en masse on Tuesday night, the five said they wanted to campaign for direct democracy and controlled immigration, and would stage a march in Dresden on Feb. 9.
"We five want to reach out to the middle of society ... There is a certain level of discontent in the population; this was communicated to us at our rallies and, after we resigned, many people said we must continue," former PEGIDA committee member Rene Jahn told a news conference.
The five, who included group leader Kathrin Oertel, quit less than a week after PEGIDA's figurehead, Lutz Bachmann, resigned when a picture emerged of him posing as Hitler.
The sudden rise of PEGIDA - "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West" - rattled the political establishment; Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Germans not to let themselves be manipulated, and said some of PEGIDA's members had "hatred in their hearts".
Those on the marches have ranged from citizens feeling neglected by the political establishment to extreme far-rightists.
PEGIDA marches and copycat events in other cities attracted thousands of people, but they were vastly outnumbered by tens of thousands of counter-demonstrators insisting that Germany is a multi-cultural country that welcomes immigrants.
PEGIDA said in a statement that the five leaders had quit because of threats and hostility, but Jahn said it was due to fighting over how much influence Bachmann should still be allowed to wield.
(Reporting by Reuters television; writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Kevin Liffey)