'Anti-Islamisation' group Pegida UK holds Newcastle march

image captionThe anti-Pegida rally assembled at Gallowgate before marching to Newgate Street

About 2,000 protesters have demonstrated against the first rally in Britain by a group opposed to what it calls the "Islamisation of Europe".

They gathered to oppose the UK branch of German group Pegida which congregated at Newcastle's Bigg Market.

Pegida UK denied claims it was anti-Muslim and had come to "promote expression of hatred".

The counter-rally marched to Newgate Street, within sight of about 400 Pegida UK demonstrators.

Northumbria Police, which had a cordon separating the two camps, said five arrests had been made after isolated scuffles.

Crowds had mostly dispersed by 13:00 GMT.

image copyrightMorgan Meaker
image captionThe Pegida UK rally and counter-demonstration were largely peaceful

Leader of the counter-protest organisers, Newcastle Unites, Dipu Ahad said Pegida UK's agenda was "to promote hatred".

"Newcastle has not had an issue with extremism. Newcastle is not Islamified. So why come to Newcastle and break our communities?"

Mr Ahad said the choice of Newcastle for Pegida UK's first rally was "bizarre", although the group said it had received "a lot of interest" from the city when it was set up.

Pegida UK spokeswoman Marion Rogers said: "We are not racist, we are not fascist, we are not far-right and we're certainly not anti-Islam - we've got Muslims here with us today.

"Islamisation of the West in our books is extremist Islam, extremist Muslims, basically enforcing their beliefs on us and making us feel like second class citizens in our own country.

"We want integration. We are not the hate campaign we are made out to be."

media captionThe BBC's Fiona Trott reports from the first Pegida UK rally and the larger counter demonstration

At the rally: BBC News reporter Fiona Trott

There were about 400 supporters of Pegida UK here, mainly from Tyneside and Wearside but also some from elsewhere in Europe.

They included NHS workers, factory workers and self-employed people.

The organisation says it is separate from Pegida in Germany, which has attracted tens of thousands of people at its marches there, although a German representative has come here to make a speech.

It says that this is a public information exercise; that it wants to tell people that it is against extremism but is not anti-Islam, or far-right.

About 30 to 40m away another police cordon was in place, behind which about 1,000 protesters against Pegida gathered.

One of their spokespeople told us there was a "fine line" between free speech and hate.

Bradford West Respect MP George Galloway, who travelled to join the Newcastle Unites counter-demonstration, praised the "response from local people".

"The Newcastle people have handled this themselves with great aplomb and I take my hat off to them," he said.

A number of Twitter users have posted messages supporting the counter-demonstrators, including one by youth circus organisation Circus Central saying Pegida was "not welcome".

Posts on Pegida's Facebook page strongly urged people attending their demonstration to be peaceful.

Who are Pegida?

image copyrightPegida UK

Pegida, which stands for Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West, campaigns against what it perceives as the growing influence of Islam in Europe and increasing immigration.

Marches have been held in the Czech Republic, Denmark and Norway and sympathiser groups have formed in European countries such as Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

The group, which was formed in Dresden, denies it is racist, but has attracted praise from far-right groups.

Posts on the Pegida UK Facebook page - which currently uses an image of Newcastle's bridges on its profile - have expressed concern at "Islamification by stealth".

Northumbria Police said the "vast majority" of demonstrators had been peaceful and both groups stuck to agreed plans.

image copyrightMorgan Meaker
image captionA number of other non-affiliated protesters attended the Pegida demonstration

"As a force we respect the right to peaceful protest and take a neutral standpoint, not supporting or endorsing any groups or individuals," a spokesman said.

"Our aim was to ensure public safety and to minimise disruption to the city centre during today's events."

Five people from Newcastle, Halifax and South Yorkshire, aged between 17 and 54, were arrested for offences including breach of the peace, assault and being drunk and disorderly.

image captionNorthumbria Police kept a cordon between the opposing sets of protesters

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