‘Anti-Islamisation’ group Pegida UK holds Newcastle march

Anti-Pegida rally

The anti-Pegida rally assembled at Gallowgate before marching to Newgate Street

More than 1,500 protesters have demonstrated against the first rally in Britain by a group opposed to what it calls the “Islamisation of Europe”

(SOURCE)  Supporters of the UK branch of German group Pegida gathered at Newcastle city centre’s Bigg Market.

Critics claimed they were anti-Muslim and had come to “promote expression of hatred”, which they denied.

A counter-rally took place in Newgate Street, within sight of about 400 Pegida UK demonstrators.

Northumbria Police, which had a cordon separating the two camps, said four arrests had been made after isolated scuffles.

The force said about 1,500 had been at the anti-Pegida march though supporters claim up to 3,000 had been involved.

Bradford West Respect MP George Galloway, who had travelled to join the Newcastle Unites counter-demonstration, praised the “response from local people”.

“The Newcastle people have handled this themselves with great aplomb and I take my hat off to them,” he said.

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At the rally: BBC News reporter Fiona Trott

There were about 400 supporters of Pegida UK here, mainly from Tyneside and Wearside but also some from elsewhere in Europe.

They included NHS workers, factory workers and self-employed people.

The organisation says it is separate from Pegida in Germany, which has attracted tens of thousands of people at its marches there, although a German representative has come here to make a speech.

It says that that this is a public information exercise; that it wants to tell people that it is against extremism but is not anti-Islam, or far-right.

About 30 to 40m away another police cordon was in place, behind which about 1,000 protesters against Pegida gathered.

One of their spokespeople told us there was a “fine line” between free speech and hate.

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A number of Twitter users have posted messages supporting the counter-demonstrators, including one by youth circus organisation Circus Central saying Pegida was “not welcome”.

Posts on Pegida’s Facebook page strongly urged people attending their demonstration to be peaceful.

‘Is that hate?’

Leader of the counter-protest organisers, Newcastle Unites, Dipu Ahad said: “They are targeting the likes of the Muslim community who are already demonised in society.

“There’s a fine line between freedom of speech and expression of hate.”

Young boy at anti-Pegida protest

The Pegida UK rally and counter-demonstration were largely peaceful

Mr Ahad said the choice of Newcastle for Pegida UK’s first rally was “bizarre”, although the group said it had received “a lot of interest” from the city when it was set up.

Pegida UK spokeswoman Marion Rogers said: “It’s about integration. We are not anti-Islam. We are not here to split up any communities.

“We’ve invited Muslims to join us against extremism, extremism of any kind. I don’t think it’s wrong to stand up to terrorism. Is that hate?”

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Who are Pegida?

Pegida UK Facebook profile image

Pegida, which stands for Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West, campaigns against what it perceives as the growing influence of Islam in Europe and increasing immigration.

Marches have been held in the Czech Republic, Denmark and Norway and sympathiser groups have formed in European countries such as Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

The group, which was formed in Dresden, denies it is racist, but has attracted praise from far-right groups.

Posts on the Pegida UK Facebook page – which currently uses an image of Newcastle’s bridges on its profile – have expressed concern at “Islamification by stealth”.

Protesters gathered at the Pegida UK rally

Pegida says it is not far-right but has gained support from a number of far-right groups