Police halt German mosque protest
German police have banned an extreme right-wing “anti-Islamification” rally in Cologne, as it was about to begin.
The move to stop the demonstration came after clashes with thousands of leftists, who flooded into the city to counter-protest the event.
A police spokesman said public safety was at stake after scuffles broke out.
Police battled with leftists who say the planned rally against municipal approval for one of Europe’s biggest mosques was overtly racist.
Some 3,000 police had been drafted in and part of the old city sealed off as authorities appealed for peaceful protests against a two-day congress called by the far-right group Pro-Koeln (Pro-Cologne).
Pro-Koeln had hoped 1,500 people would attend Saturday’s rally in the city centre to oppose the mosque and an “immigrant invasion” of Europe.
The rally was due to start at midday and opposition to the planned domed mosque, with two 55m (177ft) minarets in the city’s heavily immigrant Ehrenfeld district, was to be the centrepiece of the weekend.
Those attending the congress, including far-right leaders from Belgium, Austria and Italy, were to protest against “Islamification, and voice support for Europe’s “shared, 1,000-year history” and “Western values and Christian traditions”.
Germany is home to three million Muslims, who make up four per cent of the population.
A far-right group Pro-Cologne had called the rally to oppose a decision by local authorities in Cologne to allow the construction of a mosque with a high dome and minarets.
It invited nationalist groups from around Europe to join the “Stop Islam” rally to fight what it called the “Islamisation and immigration invasion” of Germany and Europe.
But on Saturday police halted the planned rally in Germany’s fourth largest city after leftist opponents of the congress clashed with its right-wing backers.
“The rally has been cancelled,” a police spokesman said, bringing cheers from many protesters.
“The safety of our Cologne people has priority,” said a police spokesman after ugly clashes between far-leftists and riot police.
The leftists, who were bent on occupying a city square set aside for the rightists to use, assaulted police and tried to snatch their pistols. Riot police advanced against them, swinging batons.
At Heumarkt, the square set aside for the rightists, the far left attacked roadblocks at several places and scuffled with riot police, but were repulsed.
“We had to crack down hard to avoid something worse happening,” a police spokesman said.
About a kilometer away, several thousand peaceful demonstrators listened as Cologne’s mayor Fritz Schramma stood up outside the city’s great cathedral to denounce the far-right rally.
City and national German authorities detest the rightists, but say they must allow them the right of free speech.
The mosque, close to a soaring telecommunications tower in a district on the edge of town, is to have a dome 37 meters high and two minarets stretching up 55 meters. It will serve Turkish-speakers whose current mosque is too small for the congregations.
Confrontation over German mosque
Stone-throwing protesters have disrupted the opening of a right-wing conference against the building of a giant mosque in Cologne, Germany.
The demonstrators blocked two leaders of the Pro-Cologne movement from entering the conference venue, pursuing them as they sought refuge on a boat.
The Pro-Cologne group said it was trying to build a “European, patriotic, populist right-wing movement”, and said it expected politicians from Belgium, Austrian and Italy to attend its conference.
The centrepiece is a rally on Saturday against the building of a large, domed mosque, with two 55m (177ft) minarets, in the city’s heavily immigrant Ehrenfeld district.
Construction has been approved by the city council and is due to begin by the end of the year.
Cologne Mayor Fritz Schramma called on the city’s inhabitants to give the right-wingers “the cold shoulder”.
Gabriele Hermani, a spokeswoman for the interior ministry condemned the conference saying: “We believe that such an event organised by populists and extremists in Cologne is damaging to the good co-operation between the city and its Muslim citizens.”