You are not welcome in our city.
That was the overriding message from residents, community leaders, political parties and union bosses just 24 hours before an “anti-islam” protesters arrive in Newcastle city centre.
Under the banner of ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West’, Pegida supporters will be taking to Tyneside’s streets amid claims they are trying to defend countries from the spread of extremism at the hands of Muslim immigrants.
Saturday, will be the first UK demonstration by the British branch of the organisation.
A growing counter-demonstration, now expected to attract in excess of 2,000 people, will simultaneously march through the city centre in protest over Pegida.
The counter-demo, organised by Newcastle Unites, is also aiming to attract a string of high profile speakers including George Galloway MP.
Police said they were fully prepared to cope with the extra influx of people into the city centre just hours before Newcastle United kick off their home match against Aston Villa.
Today, opponents to Pegida made one final rallying call.
David Stockdale, councillor for Blakelaw, who will also be speaking at the meeting, said:
“Newcastle is a friendly, tolerant and inclusive city of sanctuary. We thrive on the diversity of our communities which make our city one of the truly great cities of the world.
“We have a proud history of standing up to intolerance and hate and to groups like Pegida who seek to do harm to our Muslim sisters and brothers.
“Pegida paint a brutal misrepresentation of Islam. It’s important to stand up to that and for me as a non-Muslim it’s important to speak out against Pegida’s twisted prejudice.
“The Newcastle Unites counter-demonstration will show Newcastle at its best. Islamophobia targets Muslims but it hurts us all and I’m so proud of how our wonderful city has come together to march in peace and solidarity against Pegida and everything they stand for”.
The Pegida movement started in Germany but has reportedly launched a number of other European off-shoots in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.
Jeremy Beecham, former leader of Newcastle City Council, said:
“This city has a deserved reputation for welcoming people and for good relations between the communities which enrich its life.
“It has welcomed the contribution made by people from a variety of cultures across a range of activities, from the NHS to St James’s Park. Pegida is an extreme right wing movement driven by hatred of Muslims, on whom they have focussed their resentment for problems they perceive in Germany.
“Their Islamophobia is totally unacceptable, and it’s difficult to understand why Newcastle has been singled out for their malign attention. I hope the people of this city will unite to reject the message of division which they seek to bring to our streets.”
David Kelly, 33, from Newcastle, will be part of the counter-demo.
He said: “We don’t want these people in our city. They don’t belong here. We are a friendly, tolerant and welcoming place.”
Pegida claim to have chosen Newcastle for their first UK march due to having already established a following in the city.
Chi Onwurah, Newcastle MP, said:
“We are a city of diverse communities and shared values where we both respect and look out for each other. We have a history of facing hard times together and growing stronger.
“People coming from outside to spread a message of division and hatred are not welcome. Pegida is targeting Muslims in our community and we have to stand up and say it is wrong, Islamaphobia is wrong, anti semitism is wrong, all racism is wrong, we can do better than this, we have done better than this when we saw off the National Front and the BNP.
“The idea that there might be children in Newcastle who feel unwelcome or unappreciated because of the religion they practise I find absolutely obscene. That is why I’ll be there on Saturday.”
Police say they have had open dialogue with parties from both demonstrations and say they are satisfied the demos will pass “peacefully”.
Chief Superintendent Laura Young, from Northumbria Police, added:
“I have had guarantees from both organisations that this will be a peaceful demonstration.
“People should not be put off coming into the city centre on Saturday. People will still want to come shopping, there is a football match on in the afternoon and people will be coming for other events.
“I would just say that they should give themselves some extra time to get in and out of the city centre as there have been some road closures.”
The march, which will begin at 10.30am, has attracted national, and international interest.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Feb 2015