Pegida pledges return to German streets after one-off ban

Senior official of Islam-critical group dismissed claims from critics of hostility to foreigners

Supporters of the Pegida movement hold up German flags at one of their weekly gatherings  in early  January  in Dresden.  Photograph:  Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Supporters of the Pegida movement hold up German flags at one of their weekly gatherings in early January in Dresden. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

Germany’s Islam-critical Pegida movement has vowed to return to the streets of Dresden next week after security concerns prompted police to ban last night’s demonstration. Dresden police patrolled the streets of the Saxon capital to ensure there were no breaches of its ban on all demonstrations. The ban was imposed on Sunday after police received details of a “concrete” threat from Islamic State against Pegida and one of its founders, Lutz Bachmann.

“We are ordinary people who have concerns and have to find dialogue with others who have rejected us,” said Mr Bachmann at Pegida’s first press conference yesterday in Berlin.

Kathrin Oertel, another senior Pegida official, dismissed claims from critics that Pegida was hostile to foreigners. “We really are not a xenophobic organisation,” she said, adding its demands for tighter immigration laws to prevent an “Islamisation of the West” were to “shake things up”.

Ms Oertel said the organisation would “not allow [anyone] take its right to assembly and freedom of expression” and would “not allow itself be muzzled”: “We want to highlight the shortcomings of our government in recent years.”

Pegida leaders urged demonstrators to respect the ban, saying the situation was “too dangerous”. Instead it urged its followers – about 25,000 last week – to join marches of organisations in Leipzig and Munich.

In Berlin, Angela Merkel said she would defend the right of Germans to demonstrate. “If the federal government can be helpful to secure demonstrations we would – if asked – naturally assist,” she said. “I have an interest that demonstrations are possible in every part of Germany, regardless of whether I like the content or not.”

The ban in Dresden has divided opinion. Saxony’s state premier Stanislaw Tillich defended it, saying “protecting life and limb outweighed the right to demonstrate”. Federal justice minister Heiko Maas, one of the group’s loudest critics, said German democracy would “survive Pegida” but all demonstrations were “covered by the freedom of expression, as long as they don’t breach our laws”.

A study presented in Berlin suggested the Pegida protest had “reached its peak, perhaps even passed its peak . . . and would lose support”.