BERLIN (AP) — German political and religious leaders appealed for tolerance Tuesday in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, a message meant to counter both religious extremists and growing anti-Islam protests in Germany.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck were among those who took part in the rally organized by Muslim groups near Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate and the French embassy, where wreaths were laid for the 17 people killed by Islamic extremists in Paris last week.
A group calling itself Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA, has been staging anti-Islam protests in the eastern city of Dresden for the last three months. Its latest protest Monday drew a record 25,000 supporters, with speakers citing the Paris attacks as proof of the danger posed by Islam.
Attempts to stage similar protests in other German cities, however, have been met with overwhelming opposition.
"Excluding population groups due to their faith or their origin is beneath the dignity of our liberal state," Merkel said in a speech ahead of Tuesday's rally. "Hatred of foreigners, racism and extremism have no place in this country."
Gauck told a crowd of several thousand — some with "We are Charlie" placards for the Charlie Hebdo paper in Paris where 12 people were killed — that Germany has benefited from immigration. He noted there were reasons to be concerned about young German Muslims going to fight in Syria and Iraq, but insisted Germany wouldn't allow itself to be split by extremists from any side.
"We stand against any form of demonization and ostracism," said Gauck.
Germany has 4 million Muslim residents, mostly of Turkish origin, who make up about 5 percent of its population of 80 million.