German government steps up criticism of PEGIDA ahead of anti-Islam group's 1st anniversary

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Authorities in the eastern city of Dresden stepped up security precautions Monday for the first anniversary of PEGIDA amid warnings from senior German officials that the anti-Islam group is stirring up hatred that could lead to violence.

A surge of migrants to Germany over the summer has fueled a revival of fortunes for the group — whose name stands for "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West" — with crowds to weekly rallies growing steadily.

Last week's protest in Dresden attracted up to 9,000 people. That's still far below the peak of 25,000 who rallied there in January, but observers worry the crowd is becoming more radical. One protester carried a mock gallows with nooses marking them as "reserved" for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her deputy, Sigmar Gabriel.

Germany's top security official said the domestic intelligence service was monitoring PEGIDA and called its leaders "hard far-right extremists."

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told public broadcaster ARD late Sunday that groups such as PEGIDA were paving the way for violence, citing a sharp increase in attacks on refugee shelters this year and a weekend knife attack on a leading candidate to be mayor of Cologne. The attacker told police he acted out of anti-foreigner motives.

PEGIDA organizers routinely refer to asylum seekers as "con artists," sparking chants of "send them back" from the crowd.

"This is the soil from which ultimately individual crackpots and fanatics grow who consider themselves the executors of the people's will and then carry out knife attacks on political candidates such as in Cologne," said Gabriel, Germany's vice-chancellor.

"They are the real arsonists in this country, not just the actual perpetrators," he told a labor union conference in Frankfurt.

City authorities in Dresden said some 15,000 people were expected to take part in the PEGIDA rally on Monday. Several counter-protests with a total of 4,000 participants are also planned.


Geir Moulson contributed to this report.