Germany Pegida: Leader Kathrin Oertel quits protest group

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Image caption,
Kathrin Oertel had become the public face of Pegida after her predecessor stepped down

The new leader of Germany's controversial Pegida anti-Islamisation group Pegida has resigned a week after her predecessor.

Kathrin Oertel appeared on TV last week and had become the public face of the movement after Lutz Bachmann stepped down.

A photo of Mr Bachman posing as Hitler had been published and he had made disparaging comments about refugees.

Four other leading figures in the group have resigned alongside Ms Oertel.

One of the five told Bild newspaper that they had resigned because of Mr Bachmann's continuing influence and the role of a separate, sister movement in Leipzig known as Legida.

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Image caption,
Slogans such as "Truth instead of lying press" have been criticised as harking back to the Nazi era

Thousands of supporters have joined Pegida marches in several towns and cities in recent weeks, especially in Dresden where the movement began. The name stands for "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West".

A critical moment for Pegida - by Jenny Hill, BBC News Berlin

Kathrin Oertel's strikingly pencilled eyebrows have probably attracted more comment here than her political opinions.

But she has tried to take Pegida mainstream. She has distanced herself from the more radical Leipzig branch of Pegida.

She recently appeared on a German TV talk show, Pegida's first major TV appearance, to demand dialogue with the political establishment.

Image source, Reuters

A government minister has now, controversially, met Pegida supporters to discuss their concerns. But those supporters, not to mention the leadership, have wildly divergent opinions.

Some believe there's no place for "foreigners" in Germany. Some are right-wing extremists. Others just want a public debate about immigration.

And, without strong and consistent leadership, it is that lack of cohesion that, critics predict, will prove fatal for this movement.

'Hostile messages'

The growth of the movement around Germany has prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel and several other political leaders to warn of the dangers of intolerance and racism.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned of the damage that Pegida's "xenophobic and racist slogans and placards" were having on Germany's image abroad. One slogan, "lying press", is seen as harking back to the Nazi era. It was used by Adolf Hitler in 1922 and later by his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

After news of the resignations was leaked, a statement appeared on Pegida's Facebook page (in German), in which the group accused the media of "falling over themselves with all sorts of news".

"The fact is, Kathrin has resigned from her post as spokeswoman for the time being. This is because of massive, hostile messages, threats and the disadvantages she has suffered to her career," the statement read.

It was not about personalities, but about the cause, it added.

Ms Oertel had become well known in Germany after appearing on the widely watched Guenther Jauch talk show on 19 January.