Europe

Germany's Gauck urges welcome for refugees in Christmas speech

German President Joachim Gauck poses after the recording of the traditional Christmas message at Bellevue Palace in Berlin on 22 December 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Joachim Gauck urged Germans not to fall victim to intolerance

Germany's president has called for refugees to be welcomed in a speech due to be broadcast on Christmas Day.

Joachim Gauck also praised Germans who have sheltered and cared for around 200,000 new refugees this year.

Many see his message as an indirect attack on a new anti-immigration group called Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West, or Pegida.

It has been running weekly rallies in Dresden since October. On Monday, a record 17,500 people took part.

Counter-demonstrations

Mr Gauck urged Germans "not to be afraid" of the world around them and said he was encouraged by those who do not "want to seal Germany off".

"Where we can contribute to maintaining peace or alleviate suffering so that we can build a better future, then we should do everything in our power to do so," he added.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Pegida has been holding demonstrations in the city of Dresden

Although Pegida has seen a surge in support, several counter-demonstrations have also taken place.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and other senior politicians have spoken out against the Pegida rallies.

Germany has become Europe's main destination for asylum-seekers, many of whom are from Muslim-majority countries such as Syria and Iraq.

Thousands of Germans have also taken in refugees privately, Reuters reports.

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