Berlin, Jan 1: Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Germans in a New Year's address against joining anti-Islam rallies backed by a right-wing group, whose leaders "are often prejudiced, cold-hearted and full of hatred".
The anti-Islam movement organised by a right-wing group called Patriotic Europeans Against Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) has continued to gain strength in the nation in the past few weeks, with an estimated 17,500 people attending the demonstration in the eastern German city of Dresden last week, the largest so far.
Hundreds of people have been staging demonstrations in Dresden every Monday since the end of September to protest against the government's asylum policy and "Islamisation of Germany".
"I call upon all those who participate in such demonstrations: do not follow the calls of their organisers who are often prejudiced, cold-hearted and full of hatred," Merkel said in her New Year's eve TV and radio address to the nation, using unusually direct words.
Merkel, who grew up in former East Germany, said that even though the anti-Islam protesters have been chanting the same slogan "we are the people" used by demonstrators against the communist dictatorship there 25 years ago, "what they actually mean is that you are not a part of it because of your skin colour or your religion".
The movement's popularity has surged within a short period and thousands of new followers have been joining its demonstrations every week. The anti-Islam movement also has been spreading to other German cities such as Cologne, Dusseldorf and Bonn.
PEGIDA organisers insist they are protesting against extremism only and not against immigrants or Islam but the demonstrations have received support from far-right groups, prompting concerns anti-foreigner sentiment might be rising.
Long-running fighting in Iraq and in Syria and the brutalities perpetrated by the Islamic State (IS) terror group in areas under its control in the two countries have unleashed a refugee crisis unprecedented since the end of the World War II, Merkel said.
Many people have saved their lives by fleeing their country and Germany will certainly help those seeking refuge in this country, she said. "Perhaps the greatest complement one can make to our country is that children of persecuted people can grow up here without fear," she said.
Germany has been benefiting from migration and demographic developments in this country will make it increasingly reliant on foreign workers to meet the demands for skilled workers and nursing staff to take care of elderly and disabled people. "Migration is a gain for Germany," she said.