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German anti-Islam group leader quits after Hitler pic

BERLIN - The leader of a German organization against the perceived "Islamization" of Europe, which has taken pains to distance itself from neo-Nazi groups, stepped down Wednesday after a picture surfaced showing him with a Hitler mustache and hair combed over like the Fuehrer.

Online comments also surfaced where he defaced refugees as "cattle" and "filthy."

Lutz Bachmann, co-founder of the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA, said in a statement on Facebook Wednesday that he was sorry for offending anyone with his postings. He called them "ill-considered comments that I wouldn't make in this way today."

He also apologized for harming the movement, which has staged weekly demonstrations in the eastern city of Dresden that reached their peak last week, drawing 25,000 people.

Bachmann didn't comment directly on a picture that the top-selling Bild newspaper published, showing him sporting a Hitler mustache and hair combed over like the Fuehrer.

Prominent left-wing German politician Cem Ozdemir, who describes himself as a secular Muslim, tweeted the picture to his 14,000 followers, with the sarcastic caption: "Here's a topic for the next dialogue session with PEGIDA."

PEGIDA's spokeswoman, Kathrin Oertel said the picture had been satire, but the comments about refugees and German politicians hadn't "contributed to the trustworthiness" of the group.

Bild quoted him as saying he had posted the picture on his Facebook page, apparently some time ago, as a joke.

"One has to be able sometimes to make fun of oneself," he said.

If it was a joke, nobody was laughing.

Reuters reports prosecutors have opened an investigation into him and his comments for inciting hatred, a crime in Germany.

"Anyone in politics who poses as Hitler is either a total idiot or a Nazi," Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told Bild, taking the opportunity to reiterate the government's call for people to stay away from PEGIDA's weekly demonstrations in Dresden.

"Reasonable people do not follow idiots, and decent people don't follow Nazis," he said.

Germany at odds over its growing Muslim population 02:13

PEGIDA organizer Rene Jahn said the leadership took the situation seriously.

"The incident with the Hitler picture must have consequences," he told Bild. "That's unacceptable. I won't have anything to do with such a thing."

PEGIDA's regular weekly rally in Dresden was canceled Monday after police said authorities had monitored a Tweet calling for one of the organizers to be killed. The week before, PEGIDA attracted 25,000 people at its largest rally since they started in October.

Elsewhere, the bishop of Muenster, Felix Genn, said he had withdrawn a priest's right to preach or speak on behalf of the church for comments he made about Islam. Father Paul Spaetling had taken part in a PEGIDA offshoot's rally in the western city of Duisburg on Monday.

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