DRESDEN, Germany — A German group protesting what it calls “the Islamization of the West” vowed Monday that it won’t be silenced after its weekly rally was canceled following an alleged terrorist threat against one of its organizers.
The planned demonstration in Dresden by PEGIDA, or Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, was scrapped and local police banned all rallies Monday after being informed of a call for attackers to kill Lutz Bachmann, PEGIDA’s best-known figure.
Monday’s cancellation “doesn’t mean that we’ll let ourselves be gagged ... (or) deprived of the right to freedom of assembly and opinion,” co-organizer Kathrin Oertel said at a news conference. Bachmann said a demonstration is planned for next week.
About 25,000 people attended last week’s PEGIDA demonstration in Dresden, police estimated. Similar groups in other German cities haven’t drawn anywhere near as much support, and there have been much larger demonstrations against them.
While German politicians have alleged that the group is stirring racist sentiments with its anti-foreigner rhetoric, they have also backed its right to hold protests.
“As chancellor, regardless of whether I like the contents, I have an immediate interest in ensuring that there can be demonstrations in every place in Germany, because it is a fundamental right,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin.
“The great majority in Germany rejects PEGIDA and has taken to the streets against PEGIDA in recent weeks,” said German Justice Minister Heiko Maas, a sharp critic of the Dresden rallies. “That must continue to be possible, even if there were certainly good reasons for the individual decision by security authorities in Dresden.”
In neighboring Denmark, a group using the PEGIDA name held a peaceful rally in central Copenhagen on Monday. Police said that about 200 people attended the torchlight march through the city streets while an anti-PEGIDA protest attracted an estimated 350 demonstrators.
Police spokesman Allan Teddy Wadsworth-Hansen said the marches were held in “an orderly fashion,” as police strived to keep the two groups apart and no one was arrested or taken into custody.
Smaller PEGIDA rallies were also held in the Danish cities of Arhus and Esbjerg and an estimated 70 people turned up for an anti-Islam demonstration near the City Hall in the Norwegian capital Oslo. A counter demonstration there drew 200 protesters.
In Spain, a group using the PEGIDA name and a small far-right group called Alianza Nacional have been trying to organize a protest march in front of Madrid’s largest mosque. But the regional office of the Spanish Interior Ministry banned the latest request for a protest this Friday, saying such a march “could pose a serious risk to public security.”