An anti-Islamic group in Dresden, Germany, that has been holding weekly rallies since October is growing – and last week’s massacre at France’s satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo added fuel to the fire Monday. German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel and Justice Minister Heiko Maas, have denounced the demonstrations and urged protesters not to invoke the Charlie Hebdo attacks in their message. She said on Monday that "Islam belongs to Germany."
Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, known by the German acronym Pegida, started off with about 350 protesters in mid-October and grew to 18,000 in early January, according to a CNN report. The group has supporters from 30 German cities and 18 countries in Europe, CNN cited the group as claiming. In Dresden, where the protests originated, about 2 percent of the residents are foreign-born.
Last week, 50 German leaders ran a letter in the popular newspaper Bild asking for the Pegida rallies to be canceled. But the protesters ignored them and took to the streets Monday with black armbands and signs with the names of the Charlie Hebdo victims. One sign had an image of Merkel wearing a headscarf.
Merkel has spoken out about the Paris attack and joined the huge unity rally Sunday alongside French President François Hollande. Last week she signed a book of condolences for the victims and time said she would participate in a vigil on Tuesday called by Muslim organizations to remember the victims of Charlie Hebdo and the Paris kosher market.
Ten journalists and two police officers were killed last Wednesday when two gunmen entered the magazine headquarters and opened fire. Two days later, four hostages and a gunman were killed when police raided the grocery store. French Muslims, who make about 5 million of the country’s population, are fearful of a backlash.
With the Pegida protests are growing, other German cities have seen counter-protest rallies. The lights at monuments like the Brandenburg Gate and Cologne Cathedral were turned off and banners with phrases like “Refugees Welcome” were raised to oppose the anti-Islam demonstrations.