DRESDEN, Germany (AP) — Violence flared in the eastern city of Dresden after German anti-Islam group PEGIDA staged a rally to mark its first anniversary Monday.
Scuffles broke out when police tried to separate far-right protesters and counter-demonstrators attempting to block their path. Marko Laske, a spokesman for city police, said one person was hospitalized and a counter-demonstrator was detained.
Dresden authorities had warned ahead of the protest that they would crack down hard on violence, amid growing concern in Germany that PEGIDA — whose name stands for "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West" — is becoming more radical.
German officials accuse the group of trying to capitalize on fears of immigration amid an unprecedented influx of refugees to the country over the past months.
Many in the crowd held banners with slogans such as "refugees not welcome." Speakers who touched on the issue of migration elicited chants of "send them back."
Germany's top security official warned that groups such as PEGIDA were paving the way for violence, citing a sharp increase in attacks on refugee shelters this year and a weekend knife attack on a leading candidate to be mayor of Cologne. The attacker told police he acted out of anti-foreigner motives.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told public broadcaster ARD late Sunday that the domestic intelligence service was monitoring PEGIDA and called its leaders "hard far-right extremists."
Monday's protest drew a bigger crowd than the previous week, when some 9,000 joined the rally. Organizers claimed almost 40,000 attended.
While some in the crowd wore clothing and symbols associated with neo-Nazi groups, many appeared older and claimed to be unaffiliated to any political movements.
"What the government is doing, throwing open the doors to immigrants, is wrong. Most of them aren't true refugees, they're economic migrants," said one man, who would give only his first name, Eckart, claiming he could lose his government job for speaking out against immigrants.
Germany's vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, said the tone of debate in Germany was becoming increasingly raw because of PEGIDA and like-minded groups.
"This is the soil from which ultimately individual crackpots and fanatics grow who consider themselves the executors of the people's will and then carry out knife attacks on political candidates such as in Cologne," Gabriel told a labor union conference in Frankfurt "They are the real arsonists in this country."
Germany has seen a surge in violence against migrants and asylum shelters in recent months. More than 520 incidents were recorded since the start of the year, compared with fewer than 200 in all of 2014.
Security officials have noted that only about a third of the suspects were known far right elements, while two-thirds were people who had no previous brush with the law.
Timo Lochocki, a political scientist with the German Marshall Fund, said warnings from mainstream politicians wouldn't be enough to keep disappointed voters away from groups such as PEGIDA.
"They have to show that they are taking those voters seriously," he said, adding that Germany is likely to announce further policy changes to curtail the influx of migrants in the coming months.
Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.