Water cannons and pepper spray have been used to push back thousands of anti-immigration protesters in Cologne as anger mounted in a demonstration following attacks on New Year’s Eve.
Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) called a rally demanding Germany closes its border for refugees for “protection” after women were assaulted by crowds of men including asylum seekers.
But they were met by a huge counter-demonstration against end of sexual violence, racism and Islamophobia, while defending the right for refugees to seek safety.
Pegida’s rally was due to start at 2pm on Saturday in a city square and less than two hours later riot police had been sent in to clear the area using a water cannon and pepper spray.
Some anti-immigration demonstrators were seen setting off fireworks and launching bottles, metal barricades, rocks and even flower pots at police, the Kölner Stadt-Anzeigerreported, saying officers were trying to bring the “hooligans” under control.
On its Facebook page, the group claimed that more than 3,000 people had attended its protest, called “Pegida protects!”, but there was no official confirmation of the numbers.
The group had previously put out an appeal for supporters to act as stewards to monitor the march and be able to de-escalate any situation calmly and “without violence”, asking them to wear colourful clothes “so as not to seem threatening”.