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6 Feb, 2016 16:30

Dozens arrested as Pegida anti-migrant marches sweep across Europe (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

Tens of thousands of people marched across 14 European countries in protest against the influx of Muslim migrants into the continent. In several migrant flashpoints, clashes broke out between demonstrators and police.

In Dresden, Germany, where the movement was born in October 2014, around 8,000 people gathered on the banks of the Elbe, waving the German tricolors and anti-Nazi resistance flags.

“Merkel must go!” chanted the crowd, in protest against the German chancellor, whose policies resulted in over 1 million immigrants arriving in the country in 2015.

On the side of the river, police sanctioned a mass counter-demonstration, attended by left-wing and anti-fascist activists.

In Calais, the French port town, where about 3,700 migrants have set up a camp in hope of crossing to the UK, the proposed demonstration was banned by the authorities, saying the group could “create tensions, division and violence."

Nonetheless, over 150 people turned up for the unsanctioned rally, carrying banners saying: “This is our home!" and “Journalists are collaborationists!” as they sang the Marseillaise.

Police repeatedly instructed demonstrators to disperse, before deploying tear gas. As the crowd broke up, several protesters tangled with police, and about 10 were taken into custody. Among those arrested was General Christian Piquemal, the former commander of the French Foreign Legion, who had planned to address the rally.

In Birmingham, which has the highest Muslim population in the UK outside London, former leader of the far-right English Defence League Tommy Robinson led a throng of supporters on a silent march through the city center. Many carried printed placards opposing “importation of rape culture” and images of Islamic State executioner, and former UK resident Mohamed Emwazi - ‘Jihadi John’ - with the caption “Cultural enrichment.”

The protesters were matched in turnout by counter-demonstrators, one of whom was arrested by the police for disturbing public order.

In Ireland, which staged its first-ever Pegida march, demonstrators were enveloped by counter-protesters in one of Dublin’s central squares, forcing police to insert themselves between the two groups, and shut off several streets.

As the much-bigger anti-Pegida crowd pushed on, chanting, “Off our streets, Nazis go!” and waving “Refugees welcome” banners, small groups of Pegida activists were forced to take refuge in shops.

At least two Pegida demonstrators sustained injuries.

People in the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Estonia, whose governments have been more amenable to their electorates’ apprehension towards migrants also staged notable rallies.

In Prague, protesters gathered outside the city castle, the residence of President Milos Zeman, himself a strident critic of Muslim migration. Elsewhere in the city, a group of counter-protesters found itself ambushed by a band of masked men and pelted with bottles as it marched up a side street. No one was arrested or hospitalized, according to Czech media.

Scuffles also broke out in Amsterdam, while in Switzerland and Finland small-scale protests passed without incident.