A German anti-Islam group conducted demonstrations all over Europe Saturday, denouncing a surge in Syrian refugees there and clashing in some cases with counterprotesters and police.
Pegida, an abbreviated name for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, has staged weekly rallies protesting immigration, Muslims and Syrian refugees in Dresden and other German cities. Saturday, those coordinated rallies expanded to cities outside Germany.
The rally in Dresden attracted some 8,000 people this week, according to an independent group that monitors attendance figures. A counterdemonstration across the city’s Elbe River drew about 3,500 people.
In Calais, France, a smaller Pegida rally of about 150 militants turned rowdy after protesters clashed with police, who dispersed the crowd with tear gas. Calais has attracted a number of illegal migrants who live in slums until they attempt to enter Britain via the Channel Tunnel connecting the countries.
Other Pegida-style rallies were held Saturday all over Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Poland and Ireland.
In Amsterdam, riot police were on hand as about 200 people turned out for a Pegida rally, its first in the city. They were outnumbered by both police and counterdemonstrators who shouted chants such as, “Refugees are welcome, fascists are not!”
Another 200 protesters gathered in Birmingham, U.K., where about 60 anti-fascist counterdemonstrators also showed up. The event was held without incident. An organizer of the rally said after the march that there was “no racism, no inciting hatred, no violence, no thugs, no hooligans. This is a movement you can support.”
But after another rally in Prague, unknown assailants set a refugee center ablaze, injuring one person. About 20 people attacked the center with Molotov cocktails Saturday night, just hours after thousands of people rallied against Muslims and immigration. No suspects have been apprehended.
Pegida has a platform that argues there are too many immigrants in Germany and that the country should take care of its own citizens first. Its founder, Lutz Bachmann, launched the organization as a Facebook group in 2014, and he subsequently faced criticism when a photograph of himself with a hairstyle and moustache reminiscent of Adolf Hitler went viral online.