GERMANY PEGIDA ANNIVERSARY.jpg
Supporters of the PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident) movement carry flags and placards as they gather on the Theatre Square in Dresden, Germany, 16 October 2016.
Photograph: EPA/OLIVER KILLIG

Thousands of supporters of the anti-migrant organization Pegida gathered in the east German city of Dresden to celebrate the second anniversary of the group's founding Sunday.

According to the research group Durchgezaehlt, between 6,500 and 8,500 people gathered at Dresden's Theaterplatz, with several hundred counterdemonstrators protesting some distance away.

A massive police presence has accompanied the event, and no noteworthy clashes have taken place, police say.

Pegida (a German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) made a splash on the German political scene when its members first marched two years ago in Dresden, spawning similar groups in other cities.

The marches are marked by the members' aversion to the spread of Muslim culture, worries that the political status quo is not working for them, and suspicions that mainstream media is not accurately reporting their arguments.

A march last year to mark the first anniversary of the organization's activities prompted scuffles between the group's members and its detractors.

Prior to the gathering, Dresden police chief Horst Kretzschmer appealed on all sides to respect one another's right to express themselves freely and peacefully, but also to do so "with decency and respect."

Opponents of Pegida were upset that the city was taking such efforts to make sure that Pegida marchers were not confronted with dissent.

"For Pegida's birthday, the Dresden authorities are rolling out the red carpet once again and making sure counterdemonstrations are nowhere to be seen or heard," said Andre Schollbach, a member of the hard-left Left party in the local state legislature.

The Pegida celebration had been originally set for Monday, but the square in front of the city's famous Semperoper had already been booked by opponents of the group.

Dresden plans to celebrate "openness to the world" at the event on Monday.

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