An estimated 100,000 pro- and anti-Pegida protesters will rally in the east German city of Leipzig on Wednesday, in what is expected to be the largest such protest march to date. Authorities expect Pegida, an anti-Islam movement that has gained momentum in Germany since October, to mobilize about 40,000 supporters. There are 19 counter-demonstrations planned across the city, which could attract another 60,000.
A total of 4,000 police officers will oversee the protests, the largest deployment in Leipzig since German reunification. Leipzig was the heartland of a citizen uprising that toppled East Germany’s Communist regime in 1989. The Leipzig march comes two days after Pegida’s weekly rally in Dresden – which drew 25,000 last Monday – was cancelled because of death threats against controversial founder Lutz Bachmann.
Leipzig city council said the local offshoot of Pegida, which calls itself Legida, had filed a claim against a municipal order aiming to confine the procession to a few streets and to ban a march around the entire inner-city ring road. A verdict was expected soon.
Pegida, an acronym that loosely translates to Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, has laid out a 19-point plan including more selective immigration policies and steps to bar religious fanatics from entering Germany. Pegida leaders insist the movement is not xenophobic. “We don’t want a revolution,” Oertel said in Dresden.
“We want a different relationship between political leaders and the people.” She said Pegida had raised issues that were “very difficult to speak about in Germany.”
Pegida founder Bachmann faced fresh controversy on Wednesday for adopting a Adolf Hitler toothbrush moustache and cowlick hairstyle in a photograph that briefly appeared on Facebook before being removed.
The movement’s co-founder, Kathrin Oertel, said the image had been just “a joke.” It appeared to have been taken weeks ago, as Bachmann is now bearded. SAPA