Thousands of people gathered in the German city of Leipzig late Monday night to take part in rallies both supporting the right-wing Legida group and protesting it as tensions continue to run high over the influx of refugees and the New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Cologne, German newspaper Deutsche Welle reported. German authorities arrested 211 people after they set fire to cars and broke windows in the Connewitz district of Leipzig.
Right-wing groups, as well as so-called football hooligans, weren’t the only ones damaging property, with a left-wing group vandalizing a bus that was used by some of the right-wing groups participating in the protests, the Guardian reported.
Tensions have been high in Germany, with many blaming refugees for the New Year’s Eve thefts and sexual assaults. Some protesters carried signs with the phrase “Rapefugees,” while others yelled, “Deport them!” Protesters from the anti-Muslim group Legida, which is a chapter of the national group Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), were met by others demonstrating for tolerance. Over 2,000 police were deployed to monitor the protests.
“We have to take to the streets so long as people continue to make racist arguments,” said Leipzig's mayor, Burkhard Jung, who participated in the rally. Anti-Legida demonstrators held candles and formed a chain stretching over two miles in the center of Leipzig.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been struggling to deal with recent events, with her approval rating slipping to 35 percent as politicians continue to question her open-door refugee policy. Right-wing protesters shouted, “Merkel, take your Muslims with you and get lost,” during the rally Monday, Reuters reported.
“We are vulnerable because we don’t have the orderliness and management of the refugees under control yet,” Merkel said.
More than 1.1 million refugees entered Germany in 2015, many fleeing conflicts and repressive states such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea. A German politician warned Monday that 10 million more refugees may try to reach the European Union this year.