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A record number of Germans poured into the streets of Dresden last night to protest radical Islam and what they see as runaway immigration. More than 25,000 Germans came out for a Monday rally that has been going on weekly for months. Observers say the swelling numbers were a result of last week's terror attacks in Paris. As NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Dresden, they were also fired up over the German chancellor calling Islam a part of Germany.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: One of the angry protesters last night was Frank Liebers.
FRANK LIEBERS: (Speaking German).
NELSON: He held up a Photoshopped poster of Chancellor Angela Merkel wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf and said, if she's going to say Islam belongs in Germany, she ought to look like a Muslim leader.
LIEBERS: (Speaking German).
NELSON: The pensioner from the eastern city of Chemnitz and his wife, who refused to give her name, also took aim at Islam. They called it a war-like religion, claiming falsely that the Quran doesn't include the word love.
Hans Vorlander teaches at the Dresden University of Technology and surveys people attending the rallies. He says most of the demonstrators aren't radicals or extremists, but people who worry about their future.
HANS VORLANDER: It's kind of strange. We think it has to do with some kind of status anxiety, so they are feeling to lose something. And they project their status anxieties on people coming as refugees or migrants.
NELSON: He adds the rally-goers are largely from Dresden and other eastern German cities, although some come from more progressive western German states like North Rhine-Westphalia.
VORLANDER: What we are going to see is a formation of a right-wing movement in Germany.
LUTZ BACHMANN: (Speaking German).
NELSON: "The fact is we've awoken a substantial part of the population." That's rally organizer Lutz Bachmann. He's the founder of PEGIDA - a German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West. He says the protests will continue until Merkel's government passes more restrictive immigration laws, turns away refugees and answers to voters.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
NELSON: Rally-goers agreed and chanted, we are the people. But many other Germans are fighting the right-wing populism. In other cities, anti-PEGITA demonstrators far outnumber anti-Muslim protesters. Even in Dresden, they make their presence known.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
NELSON: Last night, dozens of anti-PEGITA protesters confronted the marchers, chanting, refugees are welcome here, and never again, Germany, referring to the country's Nazi past. Police in riot gear rushed in to prevent clashes and fired what sounded like stun grenades. Security guards working for PEGITA persuaded their protesters to ignore the hecklers and march on. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Dresden. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.