German anti-Islam group PEGIDA stages anniversary rally in Dresden

October 16, 2016 12:39 PM EDT

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's anti-Islam PEGIDA movement drew thousands of supporters to Dresden city center on Sunday to celebrate its second anniversary, though numbers were subdued compared with crowds of about 25,000 at rallies in the city in early 2015.

PEGIDA, which stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, made its mark on the political agenda with its first anti-Islam march in the eastern German city in October 2014 and then spread to other cities.

About 900,000 migrants, mostly Muslims, entered Germany in 2015, prompting public concern over the country's ability to cope with the influx. More than 200,000 migrants have arrived this year.

Police did not give any estimate on the number of rally participants but issued a statement saying they had deployed about 1,700 officers in Dresden and that the demonstrations had passed peacefully, though criminal proceedings were instigated over bodily harm in one case.

Crowd-counting group Durchgezaehlt, run by a statistician at Leipzig University, said on Twitter that between 6,500 and 8,500 people attended Sunday's rally.

Though the numbers were down on the levels of some of PEGIDA's 2015 demonstrations, support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has surged as migrants continue to arrive.

An Emnid poll published in Sunday's Bild am Sonntag showed that 13 percent of respondents would vote AfD if a federal election were to be held next week. That would comfortably exceed the 5 percent threshold parties must reach to enter the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

Germany's next general election is in September 2017.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who lives in Dresden, told Bild am Sonntag that he hoped the second anniversary of PEGIDA would be its last and that the city remains cosmopolitan and tolerant despite PEGIDA's existence.

Iris Gleicke, the federal government's commissioner for eastern German affairs, told Saturday's Die Welt newspaper that people who market Dresden to tourists had told her that fewer visitors were coming because of "a kind of PEGIDA effect".

She said people had written to her saying they loved Dresden but did not want to go there at the moment.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by David Goodman)

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