Anti-Immigration Group PEGIDA to Form Political Party in Germany

Pegida to start political party
Supporters of anti-immigration movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) hold flags during a demonstration in Dresden January 12, 2015. Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

The far right, anti-immigration group PEGIDA, which stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, has announced it will field candidates in next year's regional elections in Germany, and will aim to form a political party by the end of next year.

The party's leader, Lutz Bachmann, made the announcement at a rally held on Monday night in the German city of Leipzig, according to Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper. Bachmann told the approximately 800 supporters present that the controversial organisation would field "as many candidates as possible" in all four regional German elections to be held in 2016.

PEGIDA will also aim to set up a political party by the end of next year, ahead of general elections in 2017.

"It won't be under the name PEGIDA or anything," Bachmann said, speaking to Deutsche Welle newspaper after the rally. "Nothing is definite yet, it is being discussed by the PEGIDA teams in the whole of Germany and Europe - how we do it is still open."

The announcement follows the relative success of Tatjana Festerling, PEGIDA's candidate in Dresden's mayoral June election, after she took nearly 10% of the vote.

The group, at present comprising a collection of smaller disparate clubs across the country, began as a protest movement against plans for new asylum-seekers' shelters in the country. It came to international attention after its rallies in several major German cities towards the end of last year attracted tens of thousands of supporters.

A rally in Dresden in January, shortly before the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks, drew a record crowd of 18,000.

"The Islamists, against whom PEGIDA has been warning over the last 12 weeks, showed in France today that they are not capable of [practicing] democracy but instead see violence and death as the solution," PEGIDA wrote on its Facebook page at the time of the attacks.

Yet the group has faced damage to its reputation and popularity in recent months. Bachmann resumed his position as leader of the group in February, after he was forced to step down when a photo that appeared to show him with a Hitler moustache was circulated on the internet.

There were also reports that he'd described asylum seekers as "scumbags" and "animals".

However, Right-wing violence is on the rise in Germany more generally, with much of it specifically targeting shelters for refugees.

According to the latest report published by Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, an agency of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the number of attacks by Right-wing extremists soared to 990 in 2014, marking a 23.6% increase from 2013. The number of xenophobic attacks, which the report tallied at 512, reached its highest ever number.

The German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said that the 170 criminal acts directed at refugee shelters in 2014, three times the number as in the previous year, were "beyond shocking".

Bachmann said to Deutsche Welle: "In principle we support any protests that are directed against economic migrants. We're behind those. But we do not support protests directly against homes where there are definite war refugees."