German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Jochaim Gauck were among political and religious leaders who attended a rally in Berlin organized by Muslim groups to honor those killed by Islamist militants in last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
The rally, near the iconic Brandenburg Gate, came amid massive anti-Islam demonstrations held across Germany by a group that opposes what it calls “the Islamization of Europe.”
Merkel, who did not speak at the rally, also attended the annual German Islam conference in Berlin where she said, “xenophobia, racism, and extremism have no place in this country.”
Today’s rally was organized by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany and the Turkish Community of Berlin.
“We are all Germany,” Gauck, the German president, said at the vigil at Brandenburg Gate.
“Germany has become more diverse through immigration – religiously, culturally and mentally,” he said. “This diversity has made our country successful, interesting and likeable.”
Germany’s 4 million Muslims make up about 5 percent of the population.
Ayman A. Mazyek, head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, which represents 28 Muslim groups, paid tribute to those killed in the Paris attacks, saying “we all mourn” with the victims’ families and France.
“The terrorists have not won and will not win” he said, in a translation provided by Deutsche Welle.
Today’s events in Berlin were meant to counter the growing support for the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA.
The group’s rallies across Germany have drawn thousands. The city of Leipzig saw its first PEGIDA rally today, but as the BBC notes 30,000 counterprotesters also showed up.
A PEGIDA rally in Dresden on Monday drew about 25,000 people.