BERLIN (AP) — The leader of a German organization against the perceived "Islamization" of Europe stepped down Wednesday after online posts surfaced in which he used derogatory language to refer to refugees and posed looking like Adolf Hitler.
Lutz Bachmann, co-founder of the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA, announced his departure on Facebook after German media published the comments where he called refugees "cattle" and "filthy," and a photo showing him with a Hitler mustache and hair combed over like the Nazi Fuehrer.
Bachmann didn't comment directly on the picture, but apologized for the anti-refugee comments, which he made online in September, a month before the group staged its first protest.
"I earnestly apologize to all citizens, who felt attacked by my postings," Bachmann said in a statement on the group's Facebook page.
"They were ill-considered comments that I wouldn't make in this way today," he said, expressing regret for harming the movement, which has taken pains to distance itself from neo-Nazi groups.
The group has staged weekly demonstrations in the eastern city of Dresden that reached their peak last week, drawing 25,000 people. This week's planned rally was canceled after police said authorities had monitored a Tweet calling for one of the organizers to be killed.
PEGIDA's spokeswoman, Kathrin Oertel said the Hitler picture had been satire, but Bachmann's comments about refugees and others he made about German politicians hadn't "contributed to the trustworthiness" of the group.
Bild quoted Bachmann as saying he had posted the Hitler picture on his Facebook page, apparently some time ago, as a joke.
"One has to be able sometimes to make fun of oneself," he said.
If it was a joke, nobody was laughing.
"Anyone in politics who poses as Hitler is either a total idiot or a Nazi," Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told Bild, taking the opportunity to reiterate the government's call for people to stay away from PEGIDA's demonstrations.
PEGIDA organizer Rene Jahn earlier Wednesday said the "incident must have consequences."
"That's unacceptable. I won't have anything to do with such a thing," Jahn said.
A protest staged by a separate group in the eastern city of Leipzig met with violent counter-protests Wednesday. Police said some among the 20,000 counter-protesters tried to break through barriers protecting the route where about 15,000 supporters of the group, calling itself LEGIDA, were marching.
Frank Jordans contributed to this story.