28 Feb 2015

Newcastle ‘anti-Islam’ march outnumbered by counter demo

Anti-Islamisation protesters organised by the Pegida group hold their first UK march in Newcastle, but are confronted by 2,000 counter demonstrators.

Hundreds of supporters turned out for the first protest held by ‘anti-Islamisation’ group Pegida in Newcastle, following similar marches in Germany which attracted thousands of demonstrators.

The first UK march by Pegida – which stands for Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West – drew about 375 people, according to police.

The protest was met by about 2,000 counter-demonstrators marching under the “Newcastle Unites” banner.

‘Peaceful’ protest

Scuffling among far right extremists reportedly caused a brief interruption to the Pegida rally in the Bigg Market area near the St James’s Park stadium.

Police arrested five people during a major operation to keep apart Britain’s first anti-Islam Pegida rally and counter demonstrators.

It was unclear which sides the five arrested men were from, with the alleged offences rangng from assault, to being drunk and disorderly and breach of the peace.

Police said the arrests were for isolated incidents and both marches passed off smoothly.

There was no outbreak of serious violence after the Pegida organisers had insisted beforehand the event would be peaceful, and that they were not racist and the far right were not welcome.

Paul Weston, leader of the Liberty GB political party, spoke at the Pegida rally, telling supporters that Muslims would be in the majority in Britain in decades to come and that they will “take over”.

“That is exactly what they will do if we quietly do nothing,” he told the crowd. “We have to fight back.”

The Pegida UK Facebook page emerged at the turn of the year in the wake of far-right protests across Germany, although the group has no direct connection to the original Pegida organisers.

The group’s page failed to mention a previous event they held in January which reportedly drew very little public support.

“For a first meeting I think that is OK,” Mr Weston said afterwards. “It is bigger than the first meetings they had in Dresden.”

He was confident Pegida could attract “Middle England” support in a way the English Defence League had not.

George Galloway, the Respect MP for Bradford West, spoke at the Newcastle Unites counter demo, saying beforehand: “All right-thinking people in Britain condemn the idea of a German Nazi group coming to the north east of England trying to stir up trouble.

“The vast majority of British people respect that and the people who are on here on the counter-demonstration are representing millions.

“We have enough problems in Britain without Germans coming over here and causing more. We have problems in Britain without racism and Islamophobia being further stoked.”

Pegida’s woes

Pegida attendance in Germany peaked last month in Dresden when 25,000 people attended a rally, but its popularity faded following a scandal among its leaders.

In January the group’s leader Lutz Bachmann resigned after a picture emerged of him posing as Adolf Hitler in a Facebook post.

Four other senior Pegida members resigned in the following days amid fears their cause was being hijacked by right-wing extremists.

The Dresden protests started in late 2014, attracting a few hundred people after information was shared in social media websites.

The first Austrian Pegida march was held in Vienna in early February, although it only attracted about 250 people and many more opposing them.