pegida protest-prosvjed.jpg
Photograph: EPA/BERND SETTNIK

Thousands of anti-asylum protesters marched through the German city of Dresden on Saturday for the Islamophobic Pegida movement, but crowds supporting the group at other locations across Europe looked small in comparison to its home audience.

Pegida staged the Dresden march and events in other cities under the title "Fortress Europe" in protest against the recent influx of migrants to the continent.

In Dresden, where Pegida protests frequently attract thousands of supporters, there was a high police presence, as officers sought to keep the peace between the group's supporters and thousands of counter-demonstrators.

Up to 8,000 people took to the streets in support of Pegida's anti-foreigner cause, according to Durchgezaehlt, an online group that researches the size of public gatherings.

"Independent of the EU and the usual elitist circles, we will develop the network of patriots in Europe - to Fortress Europe," Pegida frontwoman Tatjana Festerling had previously said on presenting the group's concept in Dresden, a city which she has described as the "capital of German resistance."

No scuffles were reported between Pegida supporters and the 2,500-strong pro-diversity camp.

The numbers painted a more modest picture of the gatherings compared to earlier police estimates, which said that around 25,000 people were expected to take to the streets in total.

The Pegida rally in the eastern German city was punctuated by chants of "Merkel must go," as protesters lashed out at Chancellor Angela Merkel's role in allowing over 1 million asylum seekers to enter Europe last year.

While numbers in the Czech Republic were in the thousands, in Poland, France, Britain, Latvia and Denmark, the Fortress Europe movement failed to bring more than a few hundred out onto the streets in each city.

Pegida's Festerling travelled to Warsaw on the day of the corresponding rallies, where she gave a speech to a couple of hundred nationalists on the 17th century resistance staged by "Poles and Lithuanians, Saxons and Austrians" to prevent Vienna from falling to the Turkish army.

"Let us together lead that fight against Islamization," she said.

In Prague, the Pegida offshoot event turned violent as right-wingers clashed with left-wing opponents. Several hundred police officers were deployed to separate the two sides, who threw bottles and fireworks at one another.

Around 1,500 anti-Islam protesters turned out to support Pegida there, carrying barriers reading "No to immigration - stop Merkelization."

In a "Prague declaration" of support to the so-called Fortress Europe movement, members warned that 1,000 years of Western culture could soon be lost to the "Islamic conquest of Europe."

Nonetheless, numbers in Prague did not meet organizers' expectations. They had previously said that several thousands would join their cause.

In addition, the live video link of the Dresden rally, planned for transmission in Prague and Bratislava, did not work on the day.

Around 400 people protested against Pegida in the Czech capital and campaigned for solidarity with refugees seeking protection and a better life in Europe.

They carried signs reading "Hate solves no problems" and "Refugees welcome."

Arrests were made in Copenhagen and Calais, where around 100 Pegida supporters took to the streets in each city. Irish broadcaster RTE also reported arrests in Dublin among counter-demonstrators, who tried to pursue Pegida rivals.

Around 200 people demonstrated against migrants in Montpellier in southern France.

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