Thousands welcome refugees to Germany at Dresden rally

Thousands of people took to the streets of the German city of Dresden on Saturday to send a message of welcome to refugees, after a string of violent anti-migrant protests in the region.

Dresden: Thousands of people took to the streets of the German city of Dresden on Saturday to send a message of welcome to refugees, after a string of violent anti-migrant protests in the region.

Led by protesters holding a huge banner that read "Prevent the pogroms of tomorrow today", the crowds marched peacefully through the eastern city under the watch of police in riot gear.

"Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here," they chanted.

Police said 1,000 people joined the protest, which was called by the Anti-Nazi Alliance, while organisers put the numbers at 5,000.

Dresden is the stronghold of the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement, whose demonstrations drew up to 25,000 at the start of the year.

The eastern state of Saxony, of which Dresden is the capital, has suffered a series of ugly anti-migrant protests, with the government saying Friday it was sending police reinforcements to the state.

"We`re here because what is happening in Germany, particularly in Saxony, is unbearable," Eva Mendl, a teacher who was among the demonstrators, told AFP.

"Hating refugees, who live here because they can no longer live at home, because they have been through a war...that shouldn`t happen in a rich country," she added.

Afterwards, several hundred participants in the rally gathered in the nearby town of Heidenau, which has been the theatre of protests over the opening of a new refugee centre.

Local authorities had initially banned all outdoor public gatherings in the town of 16,000 this weekend, fearing a repeat of last weekend`s clashes between police and far-right protesters that left several dozen people injured.

But the Federal Constitutional Court on Saturday struck down the ban, paving the way for the pro-refugee rally, which passed off peacefully, with refugees and their supporters dancing together in the street.

Germany is struggling to absorb a vast wave of asylum seekers that is expected to reach a record 800,000 this year.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was booed by far-right activists on a visitor to Heidenau`s new refugee centre this week, with about 200 people shouting "traitor, traitor" at her.

Merkel has vowed a zero-tolerance approach to anti-migrant violence.

Public opinion is largely behind her, with 60 percent of Germans polled by public broadcaster ZDF saying that Europe`s biggest economy is capable of hosting the asylum-seekers.

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