More than 10,000 people formed a human chain around Dresden's inner city on Saturday to denounce right-wing extremists attending rallies on the 65th anniversary of the Allied firebombing of the city.
Separately, about 2,000 left-wing protesters clashed with neo-Nazis in an attempt to stop the planned march. "This year we are going to stop the Nazis," said Katja Kipping, deputy leader of the Left Party, at an anti-fascist protest in the city center.
Police spokesman Thomas Geithner said up to 7,000 far-right supporters from around Europe were expected at what organizers have called a "mourning march." According to witnesses, both sides were throwing bottles and fireworks at one another and police. By the afternoon, police officers brought in from all over Germany had made seven arrests and broken up clashes with water cannons.
At the city's official memorial, Dresden's mayor Helma Orosz said Dresdners would not allow the day of remembrance to be co-opted by the neo-Nazis. "Let's turn Dresden into a peaceful and open city, a bastion against intolerance and stupidity. We will confront Nazis young and old who are trying to exploit this day of mourning," she said.
Failed attempt to ban the march
The right-wing march is organized by a group known as the Junge Landsmannschaft Ostdeutschland (Young National Association of East Germany), or JLO, which is supported by Germany's right-wing party, the NPD.
German neo-Nazis claim the carpet bombing of Dresden at the end of World War II was a war crime and have been holding rallies since the 1990s to protest what they call the "bombing Holocaust."
Germany's right-wing scene has been staging demonstrations in Dresden on February 13 for over a decade. Last year, a total of just over 6,000 far-right supporters showed up for the Dresden march, countered by around 10,000 protesters. According to police information, several people were injured when the two sides clashed.
The city of Dresden had tried to have the march banned yet a Saxony state court ruled against a ban, saying that would have breeched German constitutional laws allowing public assembly.
The air raids, led by the US and British air forces on the night of February 13, 1945, resulted in 25,000 deaths, mainly civilians.
Neo-Nazi protests almost always end like this. I think so many people showing that they do not tolerate those protests is much better than simply banning them.