DRESDEN, Germany (AP) — Thousands of Germans took part Monday in a protest organized by the anti-Islam group PEGIDA, almost one year after it held its first rally in the eastern city of Dresden.
Police declined to provide a crowd count for the protest, which passed peacefully. An AP reporter estimated the crowd at about 7,000-8,000.
Speakers including PEGIDA co-founder Lutz Bachmann denounced the decision of German Chancellor Angela Merkel government's decision to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of whom are fleeing conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
"They are leading us straight into a European civil war," Bachmann told the crowd in front of Dresden's famous Semperoper opera house. Protesters responded with chants of "Merkel must go" and calls to deport refugees. One protester carried a mock gallows with two hangman's nooses, marked "Reserved for Angela Merkel" and "Reserved for Sigmar Gabriel," her deputy.
PEGIDA, the German acronym for "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West," has seen a fresh rise in support in recent months, though rallies remain smaller than their peak of 25,000 in January.
Tatjana Festerling, a speaker who earlier this year received almost 10 percent of the vote as PEGIDA's candidate in the Dresden mayoral elections, suggested that the state of Saxony should split from the rest of Germany. Saxony has seen some of the most violent protests against refugees in recent months.
Some in the crowd waved Hungarian and Russian flags and chanted "Merkel to Siberia, Putin to Berlin."
Most declined to speak to reporters, referring to them as "lying press," a term favored by Nazi propagandists such as Joseph Goebbels.