Anti-Islam group PEGIDA holds first Austria march

(Reuters) – PEGIDA, the anti-Islam movement born in Germany, drew hundreds of supporters and counter-demonstrators to the streets of Vienna when it held its first march in neighboring Austria on Monday.

With 1,200 police officers deployed in Austria’s capital as a precaution, around 250 marchers carrying Austrian flags and chanting “we are the people” faced off against a like number of protesters shouting “down with PEGIDA”.

Georg Immanuel Nagel, a 28-year-old philosophy student from Vienna and spokesman for the Austrian offshoot, told newspaper Die Presse he wanted an end to the “appeasement policy” for the roughly half-million Muslims who live in Austria, a traditionally Roman Catholic nation of 8.5 million.

He called for legislation banning “Islamism” so that people promoting Sharia – or Islamic – law could be punished, just as Austria outlaws glorification of Nazism.

Heinz Christian Strache, leader of the far-right opposition Freedom Party that is neck and neck in opinion polls with the centrist coalition parties, has expressed support for PEGIDA, which he has called a “serious civil rights movement”.