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Pegida Movement Faces Crisis as Leaders Resign, Rallies Cancelled

© REUTERS / Ina FassbenderProtesters take part in an anti-racism demonstration against the anti-immigration movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) in Duesseldorf, January 12, 2015
Protesters take part in an anti-racism demonstration against the anti-immigration movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) in Duesseldorf, January 12, 2015 - Sputnik International
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German anti-Islamization movement Pegida is facing a crisis as its leader resigned after a photograph emerged of him sporting an Adolf Hitler-styled moustache, and the group's recent rallies were canceled or saw fewer participants than they used to.

Participants hold a banner during a demonstration called by anti-immigration group PEGIDA, a German abbreviation for Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, in Dresden December 15, 2014 - Sputnik International
Germany's Pegida Leader Reportedly Steps Down Amid Hitler Photo Row
MOSCOW, January 29 (Sputnik) — The Dresden-based Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (Pegida) movement may be suffering a setback amid the resignations of several high-ranking members and cancellations of anti-Islamization rallies.

Earlier this month, the group's founder, Lutz Bachmann, resigned after a photograph emerged of him sporting an Adolf Hitler-styled moustache and haircut. Media reports also surfaced of Bachmann referring to asylum seekers in welfare offices as "animals" and "scumbags."

Pegida spokeswoman Kathrin Oertel, who took over the group following Bachmann's resignation, stepped down Wednesday due to threats, hostility and media hounding, according to a statement on the movement’s Facebook page.

Members of the movement of Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) hold flags and banners during a PEGIDA demonstration march in Dresden - Sputnik International
Pegida Holds First Anti-Islamization Rally After Hitler Photo Embarrassment
"She sacrificed herself for our cause, but when photographers and other strange figures sneak around her house at night, you can't hold it against even the strongest woman for taking a break," the statement said, as quoted by Deutsche Welle.

According to a report by German newspaper Bild, Oertel, the group's deputy leader Rene Jahn and three other members stepped down as they did not want to be associated with "Nazi things and right-wing comments."

Pegida posted a statement Wednesday on Facebook stating that its next rally scheduled for February 2 was canceled due to "organizational and legal reasons."

The group's most recent march, which took place Monday, saw fewer participants than usually, according to the local media.

Norwegian sympathizers of the German right-wing populist movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident) carrying Norwegian flags march in Oslo - Sputnik International
Pegida Anti-Islamization Movement Spreading to Scandinavia
Since October, Pegida has staged weekly demonstrations in Dresden against what members say is the growing influence of Islam in Europe.

The movement has garnered increased attention in the wake of the Paris attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher market in early January, in which gunmen claiming allegiance to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State jihadist group killed 17 people.

The movement's has spread across Europe, with offshoots holding Monday anti-Islamization rallies in Denmark, Norway, Britain and Switzerland.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the movement, vowing to protect Muslims living in Germany.

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