PEGIDA
PEGIDA

BERLIN (AA) – German anti-Islam movement PEGIDA failed to draw large crowds on Saturday at a major rally in its hometown Dresden.

Organizers were expecting more than 15,000 supporters to be present at the anti-refugee rally in Dresden, organized as part of simultaneous rallies in 14 cities across Europe on Saturday. Instead only around 8,000 people joined the rally, according to the Crowdcounting research group.

During PEGIDA’s “Fortress Europe” rally, demonstrators raised slogans demanding an end to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open door policy for refugees and chanted “Merkel must go”, “We are the people” and “Resistance”.

They carried posters reading “Stop the Islamization of Europe!” and “Human Rights, No Sharia Worldwide”. One of the posters called for closing mosques in Germany and deporting imams.

In a counter-demonstration on the same day in Dresden, around 3,500 anti-fascist activists and leftists also took to the streets, and called for solidarity with the asylum seekers.

Germany received a record 1.1 million refugees in 2015 and the numbers have put a strain on local authorities, triggering anti-refugee sentiments and increasing pressure on the government.

Chancellor Merkel has so far defended her open-door policy for asylum seekers who escaped conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and underlined that a solution to the refugee crisis can only be achieved by addressing the root causes of the problem, through cooperation between other EU members and Turkey.

But reluctance of several EU members to accept more refugees, and continued refugee influx have increased the pressure on Merkel, ahead of elections in three German states in March.

The surge in refugee numbers in Germany has been exploited by far-right and populist parties, and triggered anti-refugee sentiments, especially in the eastern states of the country.

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