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22 Jan, 2015 00:29

Thousands of PEGIDA supporters march in Leipzig (PHOTOS)

Thousands of PEGIDA supporters march in Leipzig (PHOTOS)

Thousands of supporters of the ‘anti-Islamization’ PEGIDA movement have gathered in the east German city of Leipzig, just days after a similar protest in Dresden was canceled. Counter-protesters have being vowing to block the way.

The organizers of the rally had predicted that as many as 60,000 people would take to the streets, but the live footage showed fewer attendees than anticipated. Witnesses at the rally also said there could not have been more than 10,000 there, TASS reported.

LIVE: Protesters gather near #PEGIDA 'affiliate' rally in Germany http://t.co/SCFTt2vC9Mpic.twitter.com/AT5mIsz6il

— RT (@RT_com) January 21, 2015

Nevertheless, Leipzig police were on alert for the biggest patrol operation since German reunification with up to 4,000 officers, English language news outlet the Local reported.

@Ruptly: Happening now: #LEGIDA supporters march through Leipzig WATCH HERE: http://t.co/pjtSjHHF64pic.twitter.com/bZjqzl7duh@BLIKOPENER333

— Hanan Shamoun (@HananShamounNL) January 21, 2015

The Leipzig rally – called by LEGIDA, which positions itself as PEGIDA offshoot – comes after the group’s most recent march in Dresden was canceled on Monday. However, a previous march did go ahead and up 25,000 supporters took to the streets.

LIVE: Protesters gather near #PEGIDA 'affiliate' rally in Germany http://t.co/SCFTt2vC9Mpic.twitter.com/AT5mIsz6il

— RT (@RT_com) January 21, 2015

PEGIDA is a German acronym, which translates as Patriot Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. Its core principle is that it sees the rise of the influence of Islam on European countries as dangerous, while its manifesto opposes extremism and calls for Germany’s Judeo-Christian religious culture to be protected.

WATCH LIVE: #PEGIDA ‘affiliate’ stages demo in Germany http://t.co/SCFTt2vC9Mpic.twitter.com/Mypc80lZcH

— RT (@RT_com) January 21, 2015

The group is working to move from the fringe of political discourse towards the mainstream. Though it previously joined forces with right-wing groups, including neo-Nazis as it was growing in prominence, it is now trying to distance itself from such affiliations and appeal to the middle class.

READ MORE: For Lulz? PEGIDA leader Lutz Bachmann steps down after Hitler-style pic emerges

TODAY LIVE - #PEGIDA's demo in #Leipzig FOLLOW second live camera overlooking PEGIDA's demo: http://t.co/ETOs7PiNNBpic.twitter.com/uU9T93T4PI

— Ruptly (@Ruptly) January 21, 2015

However the group is still perceived controversial in Germany where numerous counter-rallies have been staged. In Leipzig, up to 20 demonstrations and sit-ins have been called to protest the Wednesday march.

“Legida and Pediga are racist movements. Racism is ultimately deadly and holding discussions with them belittles that,” Johnny Butzmann, the founder of the anti-Legida movement “Legida? Läuft nicht” [“Legida? Does not work”] told Deutshe Welle.

#legida und #nolegida am Agustusplatz pic.twitter.com/InuAhdEpJ6

— Christian Bell (@Kottem1) January 21, 2015

READ MORE: ‘Anti-Islamization’ demos spread in Europe as PEGIDA voices agenda

Despite the concerns, the movement has broken out of Germany. Monday was the day when its Danish branch staged its first rally. Some 200 anti-Islamization activists showed up for the event facilitated with the help of local anti-immigrant organizations. Smaller demonstrations took place in Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city, and Esbjerg.