Germany’s growing anti-Islamic movement was set to hold a new rally yesterday, this time condemning the jihadist attacks in France, in a move slammed as an attempt to exploit the bloodshed.
Leaders of the so-called “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West” (PEGIDA) had asked participants to wear black armbands and observe a minute of silence for “the victims of terrorism in Paris.”
Euphemistically dubbed “evening strolls” by the group, the march in the eastern city of Dresden was expected to ride a wave of fear and revulsion at the killings of 17 people in France to beat last week’s record attendance of 18,000.
However, counterprotests are gaining momentum, with 35,000 people turning out on Saturday in Dresden against the anti-Islamic group.
The latest PEGIDA demonstration comes after a firebombing early on Sunday against a tabloid in the northern city of Hamburg that had reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed from the French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo.
It was at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo that two gunmen kicked off France’s three days of terror, killing 12 people.
Police in Hamburg said no one was at the headquarters of regional daily Hamburger Morgenpost at the time of the attack, which caused only slight damage.
Hamburg police said it was “too soon” to tell whether there was a connection between the Charlie Hebdo tribute and the firebombing, which would be the first attack against the cartoons since Wednesday’s massacre of 12 people at the French weekly.
“Rocks and then a burning object were thrown through the window,” a police spokesman told reporters. “Two rooms on lower floors were damaged, but the fire was put out quickly.”
The Hamburger Morgenpost, known locally as the MOPO, had splashed the Charlie Hebdo cartoons on its front page after the massacre at the Paris publication with the headline “This much freedom must be possible.”
Police said the attack had occurred at about 2:20am and that two men, aged 35 and 39, seen acting suspiciously near the scene were detained and are being questioned.
The newspaper, which has a circulation of about 91,000, offered regular updates on the firebombing on its Web site.
“Thick smoke is still hanging in the air, the police are looking for clues,” it said in its initial story, under the headline “Arson attack on the MOPO — Due to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons?”
Later on Sunday it had removed any reference to Charlie Hebdo, but quoted the regional representative body for the media as calling the attack a “cowardly and insidious act of terror against press freedom.”
Editor-in-chief Frank Niggemeier said in a statement said his team was “shocked that something like this could happen in a cosmopolitan and liberal city like Hamburg.”
He declined to speculate about a motive and said that yesterday’s edition would be published as planned.
With tensions running high, political leaders urged PEGIDA to call off the event, saying it had no right to whip up hatred against Muslims in the name of solidarity with terror victims.
“If the organizers had a shred of decency they would simply cancel these demonstrations,” German Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection Heiko Maas told the mass-selling daily Bild.
“It is simply disgusting how the people behind these protests are trying to exploit the despicable crimes in Paris,” said Maas, who is from the Social Democrats, partners in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government.
The head of Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, Horst Seehofer, echoed the call on ARD public television.
At a time “when the whole world is mourning and in shock over the events in Paris,” PEGIDA leaders should at least “for the time being” cancel their rallies, Seehofer said.
The rallies, though largely limited to Dresden in former communist east Germany, have shaken the reunified country’s hard-won reputation for openness and tolerance.
Merkel, who used a New Year’s Eve address to call on Germans not to take part in the PEGIDA rallies and on Sunday attended a huge solidarity march in Paris, was to meet Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Berlin yesterday.
Davutoglu is expected to ask Merkel to address growing anti-Muslim sentiment in Germany with concrete action, according to Turkish press reports.
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