The crowd loudly vented its anger at Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday, whom they accuse of destroying their homeland by allowing in 1.1 million asylum seekers last year.

A heavy police presence, with water canon at the ready, kept watch over the crowd of several thousand, and separated them from thousands of counter-demonstrators, as rain poured down.

While the rally stayed peaceful, police said some 250 far-right hooligans had thrown rocks and smashed shop windows in a traditionally left-wing student district of the city, before police dispersed them.

The key theme of the LEGIDA protest was the New Year's Eve attacks in the western city of Cologne, where hundreds of women reported being groped and robbed by men described as Arabs and North Africans, in scenes that have shocked the country.

'Refugees not welcome!' read one sign, showing a silhouette of three men armed with knives pursuing a woman, while another declared 'Islam = terror'.

One sign mocked Merkel's "We can do it" motto on the refugee influx, saying "You can't even secure a train station".

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