Police in the western German city of Cologne blasted water cannon at thousands of demonstrators who had gathered in a counter-protest against a 600-person-strong rally held by supporters of a xenophobic group.
Around 10,000 people came together in opposition to the protest by the “Hooligans Against Salafists” (HOGESA) group which was calling for borders to be closed and plans for new mosques to be banned. The group’s members include right-wing militants and neo-Nazis.
After officers clashed with counter-protesters, the powerful water cannons were used to separate the two sides, according to police.
Some 3,500 police officers descended on the city for the rally, after several people were injured after violence broke out at similar events in the last year and security forces were warned that street violence had increased between rival groups.
The protests were staged a week after the highly controversial group Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) staged a rally in the eastern city of Dresden – their biggest in months.
As a key member of the EU and on the border with countries used as entry routes from the Middle East, Germany has been at the forefront of dealing with the divisive refugee crisis which has been met with both xenophobia and empathy.
Germany has struggled to cope with the arrival of betwee 800,000 to 1 million refugees and this year, many of whom have fled from war-torn Islamic nations in the Middle East.
Politicians fear the crisis will play into the hands of right-wing radicalism.
Police have reported a spike in racist attacks against refugees, with 285 offences against asylum seekers' shelters reported in the third quarter alone, compared with 198 for the whole of last year.
As Chancellor Angela Merkel has grappled with the situation, she has seen support dwindle while the popularity of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) has risen.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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