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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has backed a campaign opposing a planned anti-Islam march through Birmingham after more than 70 community leaders condemned it for "targeting Muslims". The Labour leader was pictured holding a "Hope" banner as part of an initiative against the "silent walk", organised by Pegida UK and due to take place on 6 February.
Other figures backing the campaign include Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders and all 10 of Birmingham's MPs. The initiative was organised by Hope Not Hate, an anti-extremism group which aims to improve community relations between different faiths.
"I am proud that Jeremy Corbyn is standing shoulder to shoulder with all of us in Birmingham to say 'We Choose Hope'," Byrne told the Birmingham Mail. "We simply won't stand for people coming into Birmingham trying to divide our communities and spread fear and hatred. Brummies are proud of our diversity and we don't want it threatened by racists. We want everyone to join together and help us sign this pledge of unity and hope to send a message loud and clear that Birmingham won't be divided by hate."
Pegida UK, led in part by former head of the English Defence League (EDL) Tommy Robinson, has accused the Hope campaign of trying to stifle free speech. He strongly denied accusations his group was racist, saying the planned march would have a zero tolerance approach towards those wishing to cause unrest.
Robinson said those backing the Hope campaign were "cowards", telling IBTimes UK: "What have they ever done to stop the hate being preached in our universities? What have they ever done to stop the sexual exploitation of young girls in Birmingham?
"I invite them to sit down with me and have an adult conversation about the problems we face. It's easy to just condemn. What's not easy is to do what we do every day, receiving death threats and being attacked. These MPs just take the easy way out, they're cowards."
The Pegida UK march will be a relaunch of the group in Britain with the hope of trying to replicate the success of similar Pegida marches in Dresden, which attracted tens of thousands at their peak.
Hope Not Hate says attempts to launch Pegida chapters elsewhere in Europe have so far failed to draw the same numbers, but warned 6 February would see a Europe-wide "Day of Action" in an attempt to spread the movement across the continent.
About a dozen countries will host Pegida-linked marches on the day, including France, Ireland and Germany, seeing supporters take to the streets to halt what it says is the "Islamisation of the West". The UK protest has been organised under the banner, "Preserve our culture, save our country and save our future", with Robinson calling for a Donald Trump-style ban on immigration and an end to mosques being built in the UK for five years.
On 5 February, Birmingham Central Mosque will host a counter-protest inviting residents of all faiths and none to "defeat hatred by simply drinking tea and connecting with people we wouldn't normally engage with". It has asked residents to sign up to its campaign where residents meet members of other faiths to improve community relations.