SIGN UP for our newsletter ✉️ :

Get the latest stories delivered straight to you

Merkel praises ties with Muslims as Germans voice fears

Berlin (AFP) - Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a fresh call for tolerance Thursday as a poll showed a growing majority of Germans see Islam as a threat and an anti-immigrant group said the Paris massacre underscored its stance.

In a survey conducted several weeks before Wednesday's killing of 12 people by Islamist gunmen at a French satirical paper, 61 percent of non-Muslim Germans said Islam had no place in the West.

The figure was up from 52 percent in 2012, according to the study released by the Bertelsmann Foundation think tank.

In findings that suggested deep anxiety about Muslims in Europe's top economy, more than half -- 57 percent -- said they felt threatened by Islam, four points higher than in 2012.

Forty percent said they felt like "foreigners in their own country" because of the presence of Muslims, while one in four (24 percent) said that Muslims should be barred from migrating to Germany.

Asked about relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in the wake of the Paris rampage, Merkel, who condemned the attack as "despicable", sought to calm fears.

"We have very good ties with the vast majority of Muslims in Germany. All have been clear in their statements on terrorist attacks," she said.

She acknowledged that there were also "unfortunately some individuals in Germany" who had "joined the jihadists" and said the country must maintain existing security measures.

"We do everything we can so that people of every faith -- be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim or of no religion at all -- will be protected in the same way."

- Prejudice against Muslims -

About four million of Germany's 80 million people are Muslims, mostly of Turkish origin.

"For Muslims, Germany has become home. But they are confronted with a negative image apparently shaped by a minority of radical Islamists," Bertelsmann Foundation Islam expert Yasemin El-Menouar wrote in the study, which also looked at Muslim immigrants' views of Germany.

The authors said that anti-Islam stances could be found regardless of class or education level, but that younger people and those with personal contacts with Muslims showed less prejudice.

The poll, which was conducted in November by the TNS Emnid independent research institute among 937 non-Muslim Germans, comes amid an anguished national debate about immigration and asylum policies.

Germany has been rocked by anti-migrant marches in the eastern city of Dresden, which began small in October but have grown in support over the past month, now attracting around 18,000 people each week.

They are organised by a right-wing populist group calling itself PEGIDA or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident.

The group issued a statement on its Facebook page saying that the killings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris confirmed its views.

"The Islamists, which PEGIDA has been warning about for 12 weeks, showed France that they are not capable of democracy but rather look to violence and death as an answer," it said.

"Our politicians want us to believe the opposite. Must such a tragedy happen here in Germany first???"

They urged supporters attending their next event on Monday to wear black ribbons in sympathy with the Paris victims.

Merkel used her annual New Year's Eve address to urge Germans not to take part in the marches -- which she said stoked "hatred" -- and to encourage counterdemonstrators, who outnumbered PEGIDA protesters in recent weeks at gatherings across the country.

Meanwhile German Muslim groups said they were organising a "rally against terror" with secular immigrant groups on an unspecified date, and urged imams to condemn the Paris attack at Friday prayers this week.