DRESDEN , Germany, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- An anti-immigrant rally drew thousands Monday evening in Dresden, Germany, and the movement spread to Berlin with a much smaller march.
A Christmas week demonstration in Dresden's streets by a movement called Pegida, an acronym in German for "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West," drew over 17,000 people and opened a dialogue in Germany over the influx of refugees, largely Muslims from Syria and North Africa, who have arrived in Europe fleeing war and poverty.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly denounced the marchers, as have most major political parties and religious organizations. Prior to Monday's demonstration, Ingo Kramer, chief of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations, said in a statement, "Germany's image as a business location is being damaged by the impression that we are demonstrating against foreigners. We need immigration for our labor market and to allow our social system to function."
Attendance figures for the Dresden demonstration, on a rainy Monday night, were not available, but in Berlin, about 80 Pegida adherents turned out, compared to 2,000 who attended a pro-immigrant counter-demonstration, Berlin police spokesman Stefan Redlich said, organized by anti-fascist groups and the city's large Turkish community. The turnout for both Berlin rallies was smaller than expected. Europe's liberal accommodation of refugees is giving rise to fears national identities will be compromised by the influx. The flood of refugees to Germany, which often cites its Nazi past as an extra impetus to welcome immigrants, is straining the available housing; it received about 200,000 asylum-seekers in 2013. Dresden demonstrators contend the new arrivals are typically "economic refugees" whose presence threatens German jobs and takes advantage of the country's substantial welfare programs.