DRESDEN, Germany (Reuters) – A new grass-roots movement that assails the German go-vernment for ignoring its fears of being over-run by Muslims and other immigrants attracted a record 15,000 marchers on Monday in the eastern city of Dresden.
The fast-growing movement that calls itself PEGIDA, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Is-lamisation of the West, has drawn support from the far-right as well as some ordinary Germans alarmed by a sharp rise in refugees, many fleeing conflict in the Middle East.
The rallies have spread rapidly across Ger-many since starting with a local social media appeal in Dresden two months ago. They are now beginning to unsettle the German political establishment, which has spent decades resto-ring Germany’s image as an open, tolerant country after the devastation of the Nazis.
“The politicians in Germany have lost touch with the people and that’s why they can’t comprehend what’s happening here,” Lutz Bachmann, the 41-year-old gravel-voiced leader of the movement, told marchers from a make-shift stage.
In recent weeks, media reports have exposed Bachmann’s own criminal record for among other things burglary, drunk driving and drug dealing.
At the rally on Monday he lashed out at the media for what he said were lies about the movement, eliciting chants of “Luegenpresse! Luegenpresse!” (Media lies!) from a fired-up group of demonstrators, mostly white men over 40 wearing shabby clothing.
Bachmann started PEGIDA in October to pro-test plans to add 14 centres for roughly 2,000 refugees in Dresden.
The number of asylum-seekers in Germany has surged to some 200,000 this year, more than any other western country, due in part to an influx of Syrians.
Even though foreigners are scarce in Dres-
den and the Saxony region compared to other parts of Germany, Bachmann’s protest rever-berated and his Monday rallies have grown from a few hundred to 10,000 a week ago and now to 15,000.
Marchers on Monday carried banners rea-ding “Courage for the truth”, “Stop immigrants abusing our social welfare system” and “We
miss our country”.