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Cablegate: Impressive Show of Solidarity with Muslims in Cologne; Rally

VZCZCXRO0640
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ
RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHDF #0037/01 2681457
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 241457Z SEP 08
FM AMCONSUL DUSSELDORF
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0165
RUCNFRG/FRG COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
INFO RUEHDF/AMCONSUL DUSSELDORF 0181

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DUSSELDORF 000037

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KISL PHUM GM
SUBJECT: IMPRESSIVE SHOW OF SOLIDARITY WITH MUSLIMS IN COLOGNE; RALLY
BANNED

REF: DUESSELDORF 36

DUSSELDORF 00000037 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: The September 19-20 so-called
"Anti-Islamization" Congress held by the local right-wing,
anti-immigrant group "Pro Koeln" fizzled, after an impressive
show of opposition by civil society groups and relatively few
clashes. Local and regional politicians claimed "victory
against intolerance," while Coordinating Council of Muslims
(KRM) Spokesman Ali Kizilkaya told us of his appreciation for
this largest show of solidarity with Muslims by German society
ever. Fewer right-wing extremists from EU states showed up than
predicted. The decision by the Cologne police to withdraw its
permit for a "Pro Koeln" rally on September 20 led to commentary
in the national media about a restriction on freedom of
association, as the group has not been banned. "Pro Koeln"
announced legal steps and pledged to hold a similar Congress at
a later date. End Summary.

Broad Popular Rejection
-------------------------

2. (U) Following a lengthy campaign by trade unions, churches
and other groups, as well as politicians across party lines,
perhaps 15,000 people turned out to demonstrate solidarity with
Muslims in one form or another during the two-day "Pro Koeln"
event (reftel). The largely peaceful counter-demonstrations
included several rallies, an open-air concert, as well as human
chains featuring prominent politicians at the site of the future
Cologne mosque and at a square where the group's concluding
rally was planned. Many taxis refused to take passengers, while
some hotels denied accomodation and pubs declined to serve "Pro
Koeln" customers. A September 19 press conference had to be
held on a boat on the Rhine, after organizers failed to receive
permission to use several buildings. There followed a cat and
mouse game in which demonstrators blocked landings, forcing the
boat to pull ashore, far from its point of origin. After many
reports that prominent right-wing extremists from several EU
states would participate, in the end only Harald Vilimsky (FPO
Secretary General), Filip Dewinter (Vlaams Belang floor leader),
and Henry Nitzsche, independent Bundestag deputy from Saxony
attended. Vilimsky called himself a "national liberal Cultural
German," while Dewinter talked about an "Islamic invasion" and
warned against a "civil war with immigrants." Nitzsche was
introduced as the "only national-(thinking) Bundestag deputy."

3. (U) On September 20, some 10,000 demonstrators gathered in
central Cologne, but only about 50 "Pro Koeln" followers managed
to reach the site of the planned rally (under heavy police
protection). Shortly before the event was to begin, the Cologne
Police Chief revoked the permit, arguing that violence from
leftist and anarchist groups made it "completely unreasonable"
to use force by the police to ensure the event can go forward
without "exposing bystanders and peaceful (counter)demonstrators
to incalculable risks." About 500 violent
counter-demonstrators, who damaged S-Bahn lines leaving some 150
"Pro-Koeln" sympathizers at the airport, were taken into police
custody and 15 arrest warrants were issued on charges of
possession of illegal weapons and related charges. Six police
officers were injured in the clashes.

Ban of Rally Spells Relief and...
-------------------------------

4. (U) While condemning the violent incidents, Cologne Lord
Mayor Fritz Schramma (CDU) and other politicians expressed
relief that it had been possible to prevent the "Pro Koeln"
event. Schramma called it a "victory against intolerance by
democratic forces in our city" and North Rhine Westphalia (NRW)
Minister-President Juergen Ruettgers praised the "determination
of the Cologne citizens to stand up for their (democratic and
anti-racist) convictions." NRW Interior Minister Ingo Wolf
(FDP) said the overwhelmingly peaceful demonstrations by a broad
alliance against the Congress demonstrated that "racism and
xenophobia have no place in our society."


.Criticism as a Restriction of Freedom of Association
--------------------------------------------- ---------

5. (U) Some commentators criticized the decision by the Cologne
police to withdraw its rally permit for "Pro Koeln," calling it
an "overreaction that left a bad aftertaste." Renowned Bonn
University law professor emeritus Josef Isensee called the ban a
"disgrace" for a democratic state based on the rule of law and a
"violation of the right to free speech and free assembly."
Meanwhile, a "Pro Koeln" spokesman announced the group would sue
against the rally ban before the Cologne Administrative Court
and made clear its intention to hold its planned Anti-Islam
Congress at a later date.

Mosque Critic Distances Himself from "Pro Koeln"
--------------------------------------------- ------

DUSSELDORF 00000037 002.2 OF 002

6. (U) The congress also prompted Ralph Giordano, a holocaust
survivor, former communist, celebrated author, and an outspoken
critic of the Cologne mosque project to distance himself clearly
from "Pro Koeln" and the event. Aware that his criticism was
being misused by "Pro Koeln" and its supporters, in a September
21 op-ed piece in Welt am Sonntag, he called participants
"Euro-fascists" attempting to "exploit justified concerns within
the population about Islam for their racist, rightist-populist
ideology." At the same time he reiterated his criticism of the
mosque project and his concerns about the compatibility of Islam
and democracy.

Comment
----------

7. (SBU) The popular opposition to the "Pro Koeln" Congress was
the largest popular demonstration of solidarity with Muslims in
Germany in memory, and quite possibly ever. KRM Spokesman Ali
Kizilkaya and NRW Integration Minister Armin Laschet both told
us they are convinced this is the case. The number of
participants in both camps was significantly lower than
predicted. Most of the violence originated among the far left
counter-demonstrators, which prompted the (over)reaction by the
police to deny the rally. "Pro Koeln" is not banned, although
it remains under observation by the NRW Office of the Protection
of the Constitution.

8. (U) This cable has been coordinated with Embassy Berlin.
BOYSE

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