BERLIN/PARIS - Chancellor Angela Merkel and most of her cabinet will join a rally for an ‘open and tolerant Germany’ called by Muslim leaders for Tuesday after the jihadist attacks in France.
President Joachim Gauck will address the vigil at Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, which Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and other top officials will also attend. Merkel on Monday thanked leaders of Germany’s four-million-strong Muslim community for quickly and clearly condemning the violence committed in the name of their faith in last week’s bloody attacks in Paris.
‘Germany wants peaceful coexistence of Muslims and members of other religions’ and Tuesday’s vigil would send ‘a very strong message’, she said at a joint press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Merkel and Davutoglu on Sunday joined French President Francois Hollande and other world leaders at a huge Paris solidarity rally in the wake of the massacre of 17 people by Islamist gunmen in the French capital last week.
Merkel - in a message also aimed at Germany’s far-right, anti-Islam PEGIDA movement - stressed that ‘Islam is part of Germany’, adding: ‘I am the chancellor of all Germans’. She said there was still need for better inter-religious dialogue but expressed her gratitude to Muslim community leaders who ‘very quickly drew a very clear line and delivered a clear ‘No’ to the use of violence’ following the attacks. The Central Council of Muslims in Germany, one of several groups representing the interests of the community, called the vigil under the banner ‘Let’s be there for each other. Terror: not in our names!’
‘We Muslims in Germany condemn the despicable terror attacks in France in the strongest terms,’ the groups said in the invitation to the event, which is co-sponsored by the Turkish Community of Berlin. ‘There is no justification in Islam for such acts.’ The rally is also intended to send a strong message of unity against PEGIDA or the ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident’, whose weekly marches in the eastern city of Dresden have grown in size since their start in October.
‘Those who use racist and Islamophobic slogans strengthen the rabble-rousers, inciters of hatred and terrorists,’ the organisers of Tuesday’s rally said. PEGIDA leaders have asked participants at Monday’s march to wear black armbands and observe a minute’s silence for ‘the victims of terrorism in Paris’. The call drew accusations that PEGIDA was trying to exploit the bloodshed in Paris to whip up hatred against Muslims. Davutoglu mentioned recent attacks on mosques and rising Islamophobia in Europe and stressed that terrorist attacks should not be allowed to drive a wedge between people of different faiths.
He praised the achievements of Germany’s three million people of Turkish origin as a ‘success story’ and called for more cooperation in education and culture, but also closer political ties. He reiterated Ankara’s long-held stance that Turkey, a mainly Muslim country that straddles Europe and Asia, should one day be able to join the European Union. ‘If Turkey one day is part of the European Union, this will be a good signal for Europe and for the people of Europe and a very good signal of peace for the whole world,’ he said. Moreover, France is deploying 15,000 police and security forces to bolster security around ‘sensitive’ sites and Jewish schools in the country, in the wake of Islamist attacks that left 17 dead, authorities said Monday. Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said 10,000 soldiers will be called up from Tuesday to protect ‘sensitive sites in the whole country from tomorrow (Tuesday) evening’, given the ‘scale of threats’ on France.
The troop deployment would come on top of 5,000 police and security forces already mobilised Monday to protect some 717 schools and Jewish sites in the country. Le Drian unveiled the fresh measures after an emergency meeting called by President Francois Hollande as attention turned to preventing a repeat of France’s bloodiest attacks in half a century. ‘This is the first time that our troops have been mobilised to such an extent on our own soil,’ the defence minister said, adding that he would prefer not to list the sites which are deemed sensitive.
Le Drian said the mobilisation is going on ‘thanks to a high level of reactivity of our forces and the professionalism’ showed by the team. Authorities are still hunting for possible accomplices of the three gunmen who carried out the three-day killing spree that began with a massacre of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly.