DRESDEN, Germany (AP) — Protesters rallied against Islam and immigration in several European cities Saturday, sometimes clashing with police or counter-demonstrators amid growing tensions over the massive influx of asylum-seekers to the continent.
Riot police clashed with demonstrators in Amsterdam as supporters of the anti-Islam group PEGIDA tried to hold their first protest meeting in the Dutch capital. Only about 200 PEGIDA supporters were present, outnumbered by police and left-wing demonstrators who shouted, “Refugees are welcome, fascists are not!”
Dutch riot police detained several people as officers on horseback intervened to separate the two groups of demonstrators. It was not immediately clear how many people were detained.
In Germany, up to 8,000 people took part in a PEGIDA rally in Dresden, according to the independent group Durchgezaehlt, which monitors attendance figures. Up to 3,500 people took part in a counter-demonstration on the other side of the Elbe River that divides the city, it said.
No incidents were reported at the event.
In the northern French city of Calais, police dispersed a rowdy anti-migrant protest with tear gas after clashes with protesters and detained several far-right demonstrators.
Around 150 militants from the anti-Islam, anti-immigration group PEDIGA gathered Saturday chanting slogans like: “We must not let Calais die!”
Calais has been a focal point for migrants who want to slip into Britain via the Channel Tunnel. Several thousand have been living there in slums for months.
PEGIDA, whose German acronym stands for ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West,’ has become a magnet for far-right and anti-immigrant sentiment since it was founded in Dresden two years ago. After a drop in attendance last spring, the group saw a rise in support from people angered by the unprecedented influx into Europe of refugees from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Aside from its nationalist and anti-Islam stance, the group has also sided strongly with Russia. Several Russian flags were flown at Saturday’s rally in Dresden, along with banners including “Peace with Russia” and “Stop war against Syria.”
Smaller PEGIDA-style protests were also taking place in France, Britain, Poland, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Denmark, Finland and Estonia.