World Bulletin / News Desk
German far-right movement PEGIDA has called on its supporters to stage an online anti-Islam "virtual demonstration" after it was banned from rallying in Antwerp.
Organizers of the Flemish branch of the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West were urging followers on Thursday to take to social media to protest against what that claim is "growing Islamisation" in the West.
The move came after the mayor of Antwerp, Bart de Wever, banned a rally by the organization planned for next Monday in the Belgian city, along with a counter-demonstration by Flemish citizen's initiative group Hart Boven Hard.
De Wever said in comments published by the Belgian press on Thursday that both demonstrations posed a risk to public safety in the current "state of high terror" in Belgium.
Wever said: "In the current context, both demonstrations pose a risk to public safety and as such would require a large police presence.
"This is why the police advised against allowing the demonstrations to take place, advice that was followed by the mayor."
- Anger over Hitler photo
The planned protest would have been the first of its kind in Belgium since PEGIDA started weekly rallies in Dresden in October.
Wim Van Rooy, spokesman for the Flemish branch of PEGIDA, told local Belgian newspapers: ''Even if the demonstration doesn’t take place until the terror alert threat has been lowered, we intend to protest.''
The bans came after the leader of PEGIDA announced his resignation amid a row over a photo in which he was dressed as Adolf Hitler.
Lutz Bachmann, 41, told German daily Bild that he was resigning as chairman of the movement after he drew widespread criticism on Wednesday after posting a photo on Facebook, in which he was dressed as Adolf Hitler with a moustache resembling that of the leader of Nazi Germany.
Bachmann claimed the photo was a joke.
The public prosecutor in the eastern city of Dresden opened a hate crime probe into Bachmann’s Facebook posts.
PEGIDA recently made headlines in Germany and abroad after the group started weekly protests in Dresden in October with about 500 demonstrators, but significantly increased its support base within three months.
More than 25,000 people took to the streets in Dresden on Jan. 12 in the aftermath of the attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris in which 12 people were killed.
PEGIDA has organized 12 rallies in Dresden to date.
It cancelled a planned demonstration in Dresden last Monday due to what its organizers said was a concrete "terrorism threat".