Europe

Anti-Islamist Pegida group holds first march in Austria

First Pegida rally in Austria on 2 February 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Only a few hundred people attended Pegida's first rally in Vienna, observers say.

The anti-Islamisation movement Pegida, which originated in Germany, has held its first march in Austria.

But while rallies in Germany have often attracted more than 20,000 people in recent weeks, only a few hundred took part in Monday's rally in Vienna.

They found themselves outnumbered by police - and even more so by about 5,000 people who had gathered for a counter-demonstration.

Austria is the latest European country to see anti-Islamisation protests.

Supporters of Pegida gathered in a square in central Vienna's shouting "We are the people", the BBC's Bethany Bell reports.

Some gave Nazi salutes while riot police separated them from rival protesters changing "down with Pegida".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Around 5,000 people took part in a counter-demonstration against Pegida
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ranks of riot police tried to keep demonstrators and counter-demonstrators apart

Pegida organisers both in Austria and Germany say they are not anti-Muslim.

Austria's Green Party criticised the march, but Heinz-Christian Strache of the right-wing Freedom Party warned against defaming what he called "a serious civil rights movement".

Although the turnout in Vienna was small compared with Germany, the sentiments behind Pegida are nothing new in Austria, our correspondent says.

The far-right Freedom Party, which achieved 20% at a general election in 2013, has campaigned on a similar platform for years.

Pegida originated in the east German city of Dresden last year.

Marches on a smaller scale have since been held in the Czech Republic, Denmark and Norway and sympathiser groups have formed in a number of other European countries including Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

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