Pegida UK falls flat: Newcastle counter-demo outnumbers anti-Islamists by 5-to-1

Fewer than 300 people turned up in Newcastle for the first-ever rally of anti-Islamist group Pegida in the UK, while at least 1,500 gathered to protest the demo, just hundreds of yards away.

“We are here because nobody else who should be talking about the problems in this country is talking about them,” said Pegida’s keynote speaker, Paul Weston, from the far-right Liberty GB party, to an audience that mostly comprised white middle-aged men holding Union Jacks.

“Although there are moderate Muslims in the country, Islam is not a religion of peace.”

To uncoordinated cheers from the wind-battered crowd, speakers aired their grievances against Muslims, citing UK-raised ISIS recruits, such as executioner Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, and the failure of police and local government in Rotherham to investigate Pakistani gangs that groomed hundreds of girls over a period of more than 15 years.

Speakers insisted that Pegida, inspired by demonstrations that began in Germany last year, was not a political movement, but a public awareness group that wanted to “open up public debate.”

There was a heavy security presence, with mounted police watching the entirely peaceful demonstration impassively, alongside an international media contingent.

The anti-Pegida counter-demonstration in Newcastle (Photo: Naveed Aslam)

Several hundreds of yards away, a much larger counter-demonstration gathered, which united trade unionists, Muslims, socialist anti-fascists and community groups.

A drum circle was set up at the heart of the crowd, as demonstrators chanted “Pegida are not welcome here!”

The anti-Pegida counter-demonstration in Newcastle (Photo: Naveed Aslam)

After a short march, the crowd, which organizers claim numbered up to 3,000, gathered before a platform where they were addressed by left-wing MP George Galloway, who attracted the most media attention throughout, Newcastle United footballer Moussa Sissoko, and local Labour MP Chi Onwurah.

“I wish this wasn’t necessary. What we’d like is for Pegida to have not picked our great city to march in,” said Onwurah.

“But to see people of all cultures and backgrounds, from across the political spectrum and including many football fans, turn out really shows Newcastle is united against these outsiders.”

Onwurah said it would be “obscene” if a single person had their Muslim beliefs shaken by the Pegida demonstration.

As the speeches finished, the two crowds were funneled away by the police, but did end up about 100 yards from each other. Several demonstrators on both sides began to shout slogans through a heavy police presence.

Five people were arrested after what appeared to be a series of minor scuffles.

UK’s Pegida has been modeled on the marches in Germany that began in October in Dresden, and gathered over 25,000 for their best-attended weekly demonstrations, before numbers fell off as the group's leadership found itself mired in controversy.

UK’s Pegida was organized mostly by members of far-right street movement English Defence League (EDL), which also focuses on an anti-immigrant agenda, and other marginal groups.

Newcastle was chosen as it was the site of the two best-attended EDL marches in 2010 and 2013. Organizers say they will stage their next anti-Islamization protest in London.

The anti-Pegida counter-demonstration in Newcastle (Photo: Naveed Aslam)