Non-radical, middle-class Germans are in the majority as thousands of people take part in a march in Dresden against “Islamisation of the west”.
Nearly 15,000 people took part in the Dresden march on Monday night, organised by a group called Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida).
The marches started about two months ago, when a few hundred people gathered to demonstrate against radical Islam.
Since then, more and more have joined the demonstrations, which are now being held weekly and which last week reached 10,000 people.
Most at the march were reportedly non-radical, middle-class Germans, although extreme and right-wing groups are known to support Pegida.
Hundreds or protesters were from two hooligan groups seen as far-right, according to the the Spiegel news website quoting police sources.
Protesters chanted Wir sind das Volk – which means “we are the people” – a rallying call heard in Dresden in the weeks leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago.
A large counter-demonstration of over 5,000 people was also held, although no major incidents were reported amid largely calm protests.
A federal spokesman said the instigators of the Pegida march “are unmistakably right-wing extremists”.
One banner proclaimed “No sharia law in Europe!”, but most people attending the march appeared to be protesting against asylum seekers and high levels of immigration.
Immigration has become a lively topic in Germany following a surge in asylum seekers from Iraq and Syria.
Germany expects 200,000 asylum claims in 2014 – up from 127,000 in 2013 – and has more asylum seekers than any other country in the EU.
Pegida’s organisers were branded “Nazis in pinstripes” by the centre-left Social Democrats in the ruling coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.
Ms Merkel warned Germans against being exploited by extremists.
“There’s freedom of assembly in Germany, but there’s no place for incitement and lies about people who come to us from other countries,” she said in Berlin.
“Everyone [who attends] needs to be careful that they are not taken advantage of by the people who organise such events.”
In the western city of Cologne, about 15,000 people attended a demonstration on Sunday to promote tolerance and open-mindedness, under the motto: “You are Cologne – no Nazis here.”
The Pegida marches present a dilemma to politicians keen to uncouple strong neo-Nazi elements believed to be at the heart of protests from the bulk of protesters, who are non-radical voters with grievances against the government.
Almost two-thirds of Germans think Ms Merkel’s government is not doing enough to address the concerns about asylum seekers and immigration, according to a poll for news magazine Spiegel by the TNS institute.
The poll found 34 per cent of people polled thought Germany was in the process of “Islamisation”.