Germany: Far-right PEGIDA spokeswoman resigns

BERLIN – The public face of Germany’s anti-Islam movement, PEGIDA, stepped down on Wednesday, raising further doubts about the future of the far-right, populist movement.

PEGIDA confirmed the resignation of its spokeswoman, Kathrin Oertel, in a brief statement posted on the official Facebook page of the movement.

“Kathrin has stepped down as a spokeswoman due to massive hostilities, threats she received and disadvantages she faced at work,” the statement said.

Kathrin Oertel’s resignation came a week after PEGIDA’s founder Lutz Bachmann announced his resignation amid a row over a photo he posted on Facebook, in which he was dressed as Adolf Hitler.

German weekly Der Spiegel reported Wednesday on its web page that four other members of the PEGIDA’s organization committee also stepped down.

The movement did not confirm this report but acknowledged that Thomas Tallacker, a member of the organization committee, has also stepped down.

PEGIDA announced that it would elect its new leader and organization committee in the coming days and would make a comprehensive statement to the media.

The group also announced in a Facebook post that it has cancelled a planned rally in Dresden on Feb. 2, due to organizational and legal problems. 

In the same post, PEGIDA’s organization committee said they will continue with weekly protests with the next rally planned on Feb. 9. 

The far-right, populist group made headlines in Germany and abroad as it gathered thousands in anti-Islam rallies organized in the eastern city of Dresden.

25,000 protesters joined PEGIDA’s rally on Jan. 12, in the aftermath of the attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris in which 12 people died.

The group was founded in October and launched a successful social media campaign on Facebook, bringing together around 500 demonstrators in its first rally in Dresden.

PEGIDA has significantly increased its support base within the last three months. It has also inspired dozens of copycat groups in other major German cities, but failed to draw similarly high numbers in those rallies.

PEGIDA’s stronghold Dresden is the capital of the state of Saxony, which was part of former East Germany between 1949 and 1989.

High levels of unemployment and poverty remain a serious problem in the state, 25 years after the unification of West and East Germany.

Germany is home to four million Muslims and 98 percent of them live in West Germany. In Saxony, where anti-Islam movements drew strong support, only 0.7 percent of the population is Muslim.

Rightwing populist movements have sought to benefit from a growing fear of Islam, which was largely influenced by reports of murders and atrocities being committed by terrorist groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

A recent study by the Bertelsmann Foundation has revealed that 57 percent of Germany’s non-Muslims perceive Islam as a threat -- a 4 percent increase since 2012.

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