Merkel 'understands' concerns of PEGIDA backers
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday she understood many of the concerns that drove people to join populist protests, even though she opposes Germany's new anti-Islamic movement.
She reiterated that "prejudice, coldness, even hatred" motivated organisers of the so-called "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident" (PEGIDA) marches and urged citizens to stay away from their rallies.
But Merkel also said she understood some of the grievances that drove people to join the protestors, whose ranks have swelled from several hundred three months ago to 25,000 in the eastern city of Dresden Monday.
"I understand many of the problems that occupy many people, such as the undeniable questions raised by immigration, which is otherwise beneficial and indispensable for our country, or about crime in the cities and in certain border areas," she told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily.
Discounting the risk of an "Islamisation" of Germany, she urged Christians to be more confident about their religion, and said many people were unsettled perhaps because "we don't know enough about Islam".
Merkel also said she saw no threat from Germany's new anti-euro party the Alternative for Germany (AfD), some of whose leaders have reached out to the PEGIDA movement and flirted with populist ideas on security and immigration.
Some analysts have said the AfD, which only formed in 2013 and already has lawmakers in three eastern state assemblies and the European parliament, could steal away voters from the right fringe of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).
"Without giving too much credence to surveys, current figures for the CDU do not suggest that our role as a people's party has been very much weakened," said Merkel, according to pre-released excerpts of the interview to be published Friday.
Merkel blamed the growing support across much of Europe for populist and radical parties on "the effects of increasing globalisation" which had driven a "retreat into national" values.
But she said it was a "deceptive assumption" to believe that every nation could best solve its problems alone and said "shutting yourself off is not a good recipe for facing globalisation".
© 2015 AFP