German leaders attend Muslim community rally

Media caption,
The BBC's Jenny Hill: "It's been described as a rally for tolerance"

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck have attended a Berlin vigil organised by Muslim groups to promote tolerance and religious freedom in the country.

Organisers say the event aimed to condemn the Paris attacks and show solidarity with the victims.

They are also responding to the recent "anti-Islamisation" rallies staged by the Pegida organisation across Germany.

The group's latest rally in Dresden drew a record crowd of 25,000.

Large anti-Pegida demonstrations took place in other German cities on Monday.

'Terrorism, not in our name'

President Gauck addressed the vigil at the Brandenburg Gate, saying: "We are all Germany."

He added: "Germany has become more diverse through immigration - religiously, culturally and mentally. This diversity has made our country successful, interesting and likeable."

Aiman Mazyek, head of the German Council of Muslims, told the crowd: "We stand together for a Germany that is open to the world, with a big heart, which honours freedom of opinion, of the press and of religion."

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Protesters in Germany marched against the "anti-Islamisation" group Pegida on Monday

The event was shown live on German television in a special broadcast entitled "Germany is Charlie".

Senior figures from across the political spectrum took part along with Christian leaders and representatives from Germany's Central Jewish Council.

The Central Council of Muslims in Germany and the Turkish community in Berlin have called the event: "We Muslims say: Let's stand by each other. Terrorism, not in our name."

While not among the speakers, the chancellor has thanked Germany's four-million-strong Muslim community for quickly and clearly condemning the violence in Paris.

She said on Monday that Islam was part of Germany and that there was no place for hatred, racism and extremism in the country. Mrs Merkel will address the German parliament in a special session to commemorate the victims of the attacks in France.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Marchers at a Pegida rally on Monday with a picture of Chancellor Merkel wearing a headscarf

Marchers in Dresden on Monday carried banners expressing solidarity with the French cartoonists, killed by Islamists in Paris.

Germany's political leaders have accused the Pegida movement of trying to capitalise on the attacks in France and fear it will spread to other cities. Leipzig saw its first Pegida-style demonstration on Monday.

However, 30,000 anti-Pegida marchers turned out in Leipzig and there were similar rallies in Munich and Hanover.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Thousands of protesters have joined Pegida's Monday marches in Dresden for several weeks

What is Pegida?

  • Founded in Dresden by activist Lutz Bachmann in October 2014
  • Acronym for Patriotische Europaer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West)
  • Umbrella group for German right wing, attracting support from mainstream conservatives to neo-Nazi factions and football hooligans
  • Holds street protests against what it sees as a dangerous rise in the influence of Islam over European countries
  • Claims not to be racist or xenophobic
  • 19-point manifesto says the movement opposes extremism and calls for protection of Germany's Judeo-Christian culture
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
At a counter rally on Saturday protesters held up placards saying "I am Charlie but not Pegida"

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