Thousands rally against Islamophobia in Germany
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Thousands of people joined a Muslim community rally against Islamophobia in Berlin Tuesday, where Chancellor Angela Merkel said her government would do everything in its power to fight intolerance amid a growing anti-Islamic movement in the country.
Merkel used the occasion to deliver her strongest condemnation yet of Germany's new right-wing movement the "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident", or PEGIDA.
“What we need to do now is to use all the means at our disposal ... to combat intolerance and violence,” Merkel said.
“To exclude groups of people because of their faith, this isn’t worthy of the free state in which we live. It isn’t compatible with our essential values. And it’s humanly reprehensible. Xenophobia, racism, extremism have no place here,” she added.
Marchers also held a vigil for the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks last week that claimed 17 lives.
Declaring in French “I am Jewish, I am Muslim”, Aiman Mazyek, head of the German Council of Muslims, told the rally: “We stand together for a Germany that is open to the world, with a big heart, which honours freedom of opinion, of the press and of religion.” Christian and Jewish leaders also spoke.
Merkel and half of her cabinet were among the guests at a wreath-laying ceremony outside the French embassy and listened as an Imam recited Koranic verses condemning the taking of life.
‘Islam is part of Germany’
Monday night saw PEGIDA hold a rally in the city of Dresden that attracted 25,000 marchers, calling for stricter immigration rules and an end to multiculturalism in Germany, home to 4 million Muslims, most of Turkish origin.
Founded on Facebook and launched with several hundred people in October, the group has grown week by week and spawned smaller copycat groups nationwide, provoking much soul-searching in a country haunted by its history of Nazi terror and the Holocaust.
Across Germany, 100,000 people took to the streets in counter-demonstrations Monday night, voicing support for multiculturalism and Germany's Muslim community.
Merkel, who is often known to avoid controversial issues, has weighed in strongly, condemning PEGIDA's leaders and stressing on Monday that "Islam is part of Germany" – a comment that was plastered on the front pages of leading newspapers.
But it drew criticism from a range of right-wing politicians, including members of Merkel’s CDU.
“What Islam does she mean? Does this include fundamental Islamist and Salafist currents?” said Wolfgang Bosbach, a veteran CDU lawmaker. “Germany has a Judeo-Christian, not an Islamic, cultural tradition.”
Bernd Lucke, a leader of the AfD party, said: “If we’re honest about it, Islam is foreign to Germany.”
A recent poll by the Bertelsmann Foundation showed 57 percent of non-Muslim Germans feel threatened by Islam. It was conducted before the attacks in Paris.
With one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, Germany faces a demographic crisis over the coming decade and Merkel’s government is encouraging immigration to combat this.
In 2013, Germany saw net immigration of 437,000 people, its highest level in 20 years. It also welcomed close to 200,000 asylum seekers last year, many from war-torn Syria.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
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