Protests Against Islamophobia and Racism Sweep Germany

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Protests Against Islamophobia and Racism Sweep Germany

Rallies against xenophobia outnumber far-right demonstrations targeting Islam and immigrants

A sign reading 'Help the refugees!' pictured at Dresden rally January 10, 2015. (ARNO BURGI/AFP/Getty Images)

A sign reading 'Help the refugees!' pictured at Dresden rally January 10, 2015. (ARNO BURGI/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of people took to the streets of Berlin on Tuesday to say "no" to Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment in the wake of last week's attacks in Paris.

"We stand together for a Germany that is open to the world, with a big heart, which honors freedom of opinion, of the press and of religion," said Aiman Mazyek, head of the German Council of Muslims, addressing the crowd.

The roster of speakers included Chancellor Angela Merkel, who declared: "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."

The demonstration came a day after more than 100,000 people across Germany staged anti-racist rallies as a direct counter to simultaneous marches by a far-right group, which includes neo-Nazi elements, was founded on Facebook in October, and calls itself Pegida: "Patriotic Europeans against Islamization of the West."

In Munich, a crowd of at least 20,000 people mobilized to take part in an anti-Pegida rally on Monday, and at least 30,000 people took part in a similar march in Leipzig. At least 4,000 people marched in Berlin, and thousands took to the streets in Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Hanover, and Saarbrücken.

Media reports reveal that, nationwide, the number of people marching against Pegida vastly outnumbered the organization's supporters. Dresden, however, saw its largest Pegida protest yet at 25,000 people.

Recent weeks have seen the size of Pegida's regular marches grow, and a November poll of non-Muslims in Germany found that 57 percent regard Muslims as a threat, up from 53 percent in 2012.

But Dresden's Pegida crowd on Monday was smaller than the estimated 35,000 people who marched through the city on Saturday to voice their opposition to Islamophobia and racism, part of Germany-wide demonstrations for tolerance that took place over the weekend.

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