More leaders quit German anti-Islam group PEGIDA

Five leading members of the German "anti-Islamisation" movement PEGIDA have quit a week after the group's founder resigned in disgrace when a picture of him looking like Hitler surfaced, reports said Wednesday.

Following the organisation's latest march on Sunday where attendance saw a sharp drop, weekly magazine Stern reported that its chief spokeswoman Kathrin Oertel, 37, was among those departing.

The mass-market daily Bild and the conservative broadsheet Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung confirmed the news and said four other organisers had thrown in the towel at a meeting late Tuesday.

Amid the fresh turmoil at the top, the group's planned march next Monday has also been called off, a Dresden city administration spokeswoman told news agency DPA.

One of those leaving, Rene Jahn, cited, according to Bild, former leader Lutz Bachmann's "continuing links with the organisation team and the failure to keep distance from LEGIDA in Leipzig," a more radical offshoot of the original group, which is based in the nearby eastern city of Dresden.

Bachmann, who has a criminal record for burglary and drugs offences, launched PEGIDA, "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident", in October.

But the 42-year-old was forced to quit last Wednesday after a picture of him sporting a Hitler haircut and toothbrush-style moustache was published on the front page of Bild along with racist slurs he posted on Facebook about refugees.

PEGIDA marches, which have expressed anger against Islam and "criminal asylum seekers", began with several hundred supporters and steadily grew, drawing a record 25,000 people on January 12 just after the deadly Islamist attacks in Paris.

But its most recent rally on Sunday attracted just 17,000 people and its event the previous Monday was cancelled due to a reported Islamist attack threat.

Oertel repeatedly stated that the group was not extremist and represented mainstream anxiety about a purported growing influence of Islamic extremists. After Bachmann's departure, she became the public face of the movement.

PEGIDA's Facebook page said she had left due to "threats" against her and because she felt harassed by media photographers.

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