Merkel to join Muslim rally against terror, for tolerance

13th January 2015, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was set to join a Muslim community rally Tuesday to condemn the Paris jihadist attacks, promote tolerance and send a rebuke to a growing anti-Islamic movement.

"Hatred, racism and extremism have no place in this country," she said in a speech earlier in the day. "We are a country based on democracy, tolerance and openness to the world."

President Joachim Gauck was to address the event at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, organised by the Central Council of Muslims under the banner "Let's be there for each other. Terror: not in our name!"

The ceremony will start at 1645 GMT with a wreath laying outside the French embassy, where the ground is covered with flowers, candles and condolence cards.

The wreath will be made of coloured pens, a symbol of freedom of expression in honour of the 17 victims of the attack on satirical paper Charlie Hebdo and subsequent bloodshed that shook France last week.

Imams will recite Koranic verses, including a passage that condemns the taking of life. After speeches by Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders and a minute's silence, Gauck will address the several thousands invited guests.

Merkel -- who on Sunday joined French President Francois Hollande and other world leaders at a huge Paris solidarity rally -- will be among the guests, together with most of her cabinet ministers.

Announcing the vigil, the Muslim Council and the Turkish Community of Berlin had condemned "the despicable terror attacks in France in the strongest terms" and stressed that "there is no justification in Islam for such acts."

With a view to a nascent anti-Islamic movement, they said they wanted "to send a message for peace and tolerance, against hatred and violence and for a cosmopolitan Germany which respects and protects the freedom of expression and religion".

- 'Islam is part of Germany' -

Monday night saw the 12th rally by Germany's new right-wing movement the "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident", or PEGIDA, which drew a record 25,000 marchers in the city of Dresden in the former communist east Germany.

Founded on Facebook and launched with several hundred people in October, the group has grown week by week and spawned smaller copycat groups nationwide, provoking much soul-searching in a country haunted by its history of Nazi terror and the Holocaust.

Across Germany, 100,000 people took to the streets in counter-demonstrations Monday night, voicing support for multiculturalism and Germany's four-million-strong Muslim community.

Merkel, who is often known to avoid controversial issues, has weighed in strongly, condemning PEGIDA's leaders and stressing on Monday that "Islam is part of Germany".

Her comments were broadly hailed in the media, but not everyone agreed.

"Naturally, Muslims belong in our society," said Merkel's former interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a Bavarian conservative.

"But the question is knowing what constitutes the identity of a country, and in Germany it is a Christian identity built on Judeo-Christian roots."

Central-banker-turned-author Thilo Sarrazin -- whose bestselling attack on Germany's immigration system, the book "Germany Does Itself In", caused a furore in 2010 -- stressed that Islam is not "a historically evolved part of German culture, tradition and way of life".

A commentary on news site Spiegel Online meanwhile praised Merkel for speaking out against PEGIDA, at the risk of losing voters at the fringes of her conservative party.

"The chancellor is not playing tactical games but in her New Year's address placed herself at the forefront of the anti-PEGIDA movement," it said, after Merkel condemned the group's leaders as having "prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts".

Bild, Germany's top-selling daily, said the Paris attacks seemed to have shaken the usually unflappable Merkel, a pastor's daughter who grew up in the communist East.

"She has two issues where, when she speaks, she doesn't sound like she is simply droning on with platitudes: religion and freedom," it said, noting the rare public signs of emotion she showed with Hollande at Sunday's solidarity march.

"She knows that gestures are now necessary... it is about freedom and protection from a terrorist war."

© 2015 AFP

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