BERLIN One of Germany's most famous landmarks, Cologne Cathedral, will be plunged into darkness on Monday evening in protest at a march by a growing grass-roots anti-Muslim movement through the western German city, cathedral authorities said.
The rise of the group, Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA), has shaken Germany's political establishment, prompting Chancellor Angela Merkel to say in her New Year address that its leaders were racists full of hatred and citizens should beware being used.
PEGIDA's last weekly rally in the eastern city of Dresden attracted some 17,000 people, and the movement plans further marches in other cities, including through the center of Cologne on Monday night with a rally by the cathedral.
"PEGIDA is made up of an astonishingly broad mix of people, ranging from those in the middle of society to racists and the extreme right-wing," Cathedral Dean Norbert Feldhoff told Reuters.
"By switching off the floodlighting we want to make those on the march stop and think. It is a challenge: consider who you are marching alongside."
Dresden's famous Semperoper opera house also extinguished its lights in protest during the last PEGIDA march in the city.
An opinion poll on Thursday found one German in eight would join an anti-Muslim march if PEGIDA organized one in their home town. Many people are concerned about the numbers of asylum seekers entering Germany, which surged to about 200,000 in 2014, four times the number in 2012. Net immigration has also hit a two-decade high.
Anti-immigration parties, capitalizing on voters' disenchantment with economic austerity, have surged in popularity in a number of European countries, including France, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands.
(Reporting by Hans-Edzard Busemann; writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)