Germans Protest Anti-Islamist Rally as Landmarks Go Dark

Germans took to the streets to protest against anti-Islamist rallies in the eastern city of Dresden, which grew to a record size even as Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the nation to shun racism.

About 18,000 people marched through Dresden yesterday night in the latest weekly rally backed by organizers who call themselves Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or Pegida. The group says it’s for stricter immigration and asylum laws, protecting“western culture” and avoiding “parallel societies” of Muslims in Germany.

Four thousand counter-demonstrators turned out in Dresden, while tens of thousands of opponents rallied in cities including Berlin and Cologne, where Roman Catholic church officials turned off the floodlights at the city’s cathedral in protest. In Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate was unlit for part of the evening at the behest of city officials, according to Bild newspaper.

Merkel urged Germans to shun the anti-Islamist rallies in her New Year’s speech, saying the organizers “all too often have prejudice, coldness, and yes, hatred in their hearts.” In a speech to supporters of her Cristian Democratic Union in the eastern town of Neustrelitz yesterday, she said racism has no place in Germany.

Darkened Volkswagen

Volkswagen AG pushed back against the protesters by turning off the illumination for several hours at its glassy Transparent Factory in Dresden, where the Phaeton model is made. Germany’s BDI industry federation says migration of skilled workers helps ensure growth and prosperity in Europe’s biggest economy.

Pegida is part of a surge of anti-immigrant groups in Europe that are challenging established parties in countries such as the U.K., France and Sweden. While Pegida isn’t a party, it follows election successes this year of the anti-euro Alternative for Germany, or AfD, that’s calling for migration limits and is taking voters from German parties including Merkel’s CDU.

An estimated 200,000 refugees came to Germany last year, about 60 percent more than in 2013, according to the government, making Germany the top destination for refugees ahead of the U.S. Muslims account for about 5 percent of Germany’s population, according to an estimate by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.

Merkel’s stand has its critics within her Christian Democratic bloc. Hans-Peter Friedrich, a former Cabinet minister from the Bavaria-based CSU party, said the chancellor had helped enable the rise of AfD and the Dresden protests.

Her bloc “dealt too lightly in the past with the question of the identity of our people and our nation,” Der Spiegel quoted him as saying in an interview.

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