The leader of Dresden-based anti-Islamization movement, "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident" (PEGIDA), has resigned after his "Hitler selfie" went viral and prompted a criminal investigation, while thousands of the organization's supporters and opponents staged rival rallies in Leipzig.
A photo of Lutz Bachmann, 41, with a Hitler-style moustache and hair style was published by local paper the Dresdner Morgenpost on Wednesday and shared widely across social media platforms.
Dresden's public prosecutor subsequently said it was investigating whether a case should be opened against him on charges of incitement to hatred
Germany's Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel condemned Bachmann in a statement, saying that "anyone who puts on a Hitler disguise is either an idiot or a Nazi."
Dresdner Morgenpost also reported that the PEGIDA head had employed anti-refugee slurs in private Facebook messages, describing asylum seekers as "scumbags" and "animals".
Bachmann removed the "joke" picture, but subsequently stepped down and apologised for his statements.
PEGIDA co-founder Kathrin Oertel welcomed his decision, telling Reuters that while the Hitler picture was "satire", "sweeping insults against strangers" were not acceptable. She added that PEGIDA would continue.
The group's leadership has been making recent efforts to moderate its image and distance itself from neo-Nazi factions which have attended its rallies. After previously refusing to speak with the press, Bachmann and Oertel held a press conference on Monday where they denied that they were racist and said most of their supporters were ordinary people angry at the political establishment.
Meanwhile, a march staged by the organization's Leipzig-based branch on Wednesday night attracted 15,000 supporters, and more than 20,000 anti-racist counter demonstrators.
Demonstrators from the group LEGIDA, Leipzig's off-shoot of the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement, were confronted by a man with a rainbow flag at their demonstration in the city on Wednesday. Footage shows him being removed by police.
Police shut down the city center to traffic and bussed in 4,000 officers from across the country to prevent the two sides clashing, local authorities said.
Organizers had previously predicted a turnout of 40,000, however — the attendance was expected to be boosted after a PEGIDA march scheduled for Tuesday was cancelled due to fears of an assassination attempt on Bachmann.
PEGIDA burst onto the German political landscape in late 2014 and holds regular anti-immigration marches that attract thousands in Dresden.
German lawmakers, including Chancellor Angela Merkel have condemned the group, and President Joachim Gauck recently said "polarisation" could damage the country's social bonds.
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