Police Dresden
Police in Dresden at a Pegida rally in January Getty

A senior official in the eastern German state of Saxony has expressed concern that police may be sympathetic to the far-right Pegida group.

Founded in the Saxon town of Dresden, the anti-Islam group has drawn tens of thousands to its rallies in the state, capitalising on growing opposition to the government's pro-immigration policies.

Speaking to Die Zeit Martin Dulig, State Deputy Premier and regional head of the Social Democrat Party (SPD), said officers had "a lot to learn about intercultural competence" and asked why officers failed to intervene when far-right activists from Pegida and the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) used hate speech at rallies. "I sometimes ask myself, too, whether there's greater sympathy for Pegida and AfD among the police in Saxony than among the average population," said Dulig.

An expert backed Dulig's claim. Speaking to Deutsche Welle Albrecht Pallas, domestic policy expert in Saxony's SPD, said: "Some police officers have friendly handshakes with Pegida protesters. Citizens and police from other states who are also at the protests are astonished by that and have been sending us worried e-mails about this kind of behaviour."

In recent months there have been increasing attacks on immigrant shelters in the state, with crowds cheering when an anti-immigration shelter went up in flames in the town of Bautzen in February.

Two days previously, a jeering mob blocked a bus of immigrants and refugees as it entered the Saxon town of Clausnitz, with officers roughly dragging two immigrants they claim had been provoking protesters from the coach. Police handling of both incidents has been criticised, with Aydan Özoguz, the federal government's integration commissioner, claiming police had failed to impose order.

In the wake of the incidents, SPD federal interior affairs spokesman Burkhard Lischka warned that the outbreak of far-right radicalism left Saxony at risk of becoming a "failed state".