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Thousands join demo welcoming refugees to Germany’s Dresden

The crowds held the peaceful march through the eastern city under the watch of police in riot gear

Published: Updated:

Thousands of people took to the streets of the German city of Dresden on Saturday to welcome refugees, an AFP journalist at the scene said, following a string of violent anti-migrant protests in the region.

Led by protesters holding a huge banner that read “Prevent the pogroms of tomorrow today,” the crowds held the peaceful march through the eastern city under the watch of police in riot gear.

“Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here,” they chanted.

Police said 1,000 people joined the protest, which was called by the Anti-Nazi Alliance, while organizers put the numbers at 5,000.

Dresden is the stronghold of the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement, whose demonstrations drew up to 25,000 at the start of the year.

The eastern state of Saxony, which counts Dresden as its capital, has suffered a series of ugly anti-migrant protests, with the government saying Friday it was sending police reinforcements to the state.

Heidenau, a town of around 16,000 inhabitants near Dresden, has become the focus of Germany’s struggle to absorb a vast wave of asylum seekers that is expected to reach a record 800,000 this year.

Several dozen people were injured in clashes last weekend between police and far-right protesters opposed to the opening of a new refugee centre in the town.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was booed by far-right activists as she visited the centre this week, with about 200 people shouting “traitor, traitor” at her.

Merkel said there would be zero tolerance for “vile” anti-migrant violence.

Public opinion is largely behind her, with 60 percent of Germans polled by public broadcaster ZDF saying that Europe’s biggest economy is capable of hosting the asylum-seekers.

‘Germany is rediscovering itself’

A slew of celebrities, too, have come out to show support for people seeking new lives in Germany.

“Dear refugees, it’s good that you’re here,” German Real Madrid player Toni Kroos said in comments reported by the press, “because it allows us to test our values and show respect to others.”

The actor Til Schweiger is among the most prominent pro-migrant voices in German showbiz, while rock singer Udo Lindenberg is hoping to organise a major Berlin concert against anti-migrant hate, slated for October 4.

This is not the first time Germany has seen a spate of racist incidents -- nor the first time it has witnessed an outpouring of calls for tolerance in response.

In 2000, then chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called for an “uprising of decent people” after a synagogue was burned down in the western city of Duesseldorf.

Germany is “a tolerant and open country”, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere insisted in an interview with the newspaper Die Welt on Saturday, blasting those who “believe they represent the silent majority when they prey on foreigners”.

In an editorial entitled “Who we are”, the paper said that in spite of the xenophobic attacks, the positive response from ordinary Germans is “changing the face of Germany”, a nation that is “in the process of rediscovering itself” by welcoming large numbers of people in need.

In January, a survey by the non-profit Bertelsmann Foundation found the German public largely sympathetic to the refugees; 60 percent said they were ready to welcome the newcomers, up from 49 percent three years ago.

But the study also noted that the country remains divided on the question of whether immigration is an opportunity for Europe’s economic powerhouse, or a burden.

In Dresden -- capital of the eastern Saxony state that has borne the brunt of the anti-migrant violence -- thousands took to the streets on Saturday to take a stand against the xenophobic attacks.

“Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here,” they chanted.