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Merkel joins Muslim groups at rally condemning Paris attacks, Islamophobia

'Hatred of foreigners, racism and extremism have no place in this country,' says German chancellor

German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined thousands of demonstrators at a Muslim community rally Tuesday aimed at condemning the Paris attacks, promoting tolerance and rebuking the country’s growing anti-Islamic movement.

"Hatred of foreigners, racism and extremism have no place in this country," Merkel said in a speech prior to the march. "We are a country based on democracy, tolerance and openness to the world," she added. “Excluding population groups due to their faith or their origin is beneath the dignity of our liberal state.”

German President Joachim Gauck addressed the event at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, organized by the Central Council of Muslims under the banner "Let's be there for each other. Terror: not in our name!"

Gauch told the crowd, “We are all Germany.”

The ceremony began with a wreath lying outside the French embassy, where the ground was covered with flowers, candles and condolence cards.

A wreath left at the site was made up of colored pens — a symbol of freedom of expression to honor the victims of the attack on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent targeting of a kosher supermarket in France.

Imams recited Quranic verses, including passages that condemned the taking of life. After speeches by Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders and a minute's silence, Gauck addressed the several thousands invited guests.

Merkel, who on Sunday joined French President Francois Hollande and other world leaders at a huge Paris solidarity rally, was among the guests, together with most of her cabinet ministers.

Announcing the vigil, the Muslim Council and the Turkish Community of Berlin had earlier condemned "the despicable terror attacks in France in the strongest terms" and stressed "there is no justification in Islam for such acts."

With a view to a nascent anti-Islamic movement that has seen thousands of people take part in rallies across Germany in the weeks prior to the attacks in France, organizers of Tuesday’s event said they wanted "to send a message for peace and tolerance, against hatred and violence and for a cosmopolitan Germany which respects and protects the freedom of expression and religion.”

Monday night saw the 12th rally by Germany's new right-wing movement the "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West,” or PEGIDA, which drew a record 25,000 marchers in the eastern city of Dresden.

Founded on Facebook and launched in October, the group has been growing by the week, spawning smaller copycat groups across the nation.

Across Germany, 100,000 people took to the streets in counter-demonstrations Monday night, voicing support for multiculturalism and Germany's four-million-strong Muslim community, one of the largest in Europe.

Merkel has weighed in strongly over the apparent rise of the anti-immigrant group, condemning PEGIDA's leaders and stressing Monday that "Islam is part of Germany.”

Al Jazeera and Agence-France Presse

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