The Danish wing of Germany’s anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement staged its first rallies on Monday, drawing several hundred people in the capital and in other cities although marchers were outnumbered by counter-demonstrators.
Some 200 PEGIDA supporters turned out in Copenhagen, many carrying torches and signs saying “No to violence and racism”.
Some also held up covers of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, whose Paris offices were attacked on January 7 by Islamist gunmen claiming to avenge its cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.
“Of course there is room for everyone, but when there is talk about women’s rights being suppressed or people are killed for Allah… that’s what I’m demonstrating against,” said a demonstrator who gave her name as Elena.
Launched in Germany, PEGIDA — “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident” — started out with just a few hundred supporters but its weekly marches have steadily grown since then, attracting a record 25,000 in the eastern city of Dresden last week.
Branches have since popped up in other European countries.
Around 300 people attended a counter-demonstration in Noerrebro, a Copenhagen district popular with immigrants and students.
In Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city, 30 PEGIDA demonstrators were outnumbered by 300 counter-demonstrators.
afp.com / Scanpix Denmark / Christian Liliendahl
Anti-PEGIDA Denmark protesters hold a counter demonstration in Copenhagen on January 19, 2015
In the western city of Esbjerg, up to 100 people took part in a demonstration held by Stop the Islamisation of Denmark (SIAD) while 400 took part in a counter-protest.
The organisers of the Copenhagen PEGIDA rally said they were only against Islamic fundamentalism and not regular Muslims, and that they didn’t want the event to be high-jacked by racists.
“Our goal is to give the middle class a chance to express their worries concerning violent Islam and to send a signal to politicians that we voters are worried,” said organiser Nicolai Sennels, who has previously stood for parliament for the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party (DPP).
However, Sennels has in the past claimed that half the world’s Muslims are inbred and has suggested banning the sale of halal meat so that “the Islamists can’t get any food.”
Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard called the PEGIDA demos the wrong reaction to what we have experienced”, referring to the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in which 12 people were killed.
PEGIDA’s Danish organisers said they would continue to hold “peaceful evening strolls” once a week.