Some 17,000 people joined hands in the eastern German city of Dresden on Sunday to form a human chain against the neo-Nazi protests that have become a hallmark of the anniversary of the city's devastating World War II bombing.
Several hundred people also attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the cemetery where many of the bombing victims are buried. The Allied air raids of February 13 and February 14, 1945 are believed to have killed as many as 25,000 people
"Right here, at the graves of the victims of the bombing nights, we profess that Dresden wants reconciliation," Mayor Detlef Sittel said, calling for people to oppose any extremist attempt to capitalize on the city's history.
Far-right activists have long used the anniversary to castigate the Allied forces as war criminals and deny any German guilt in World War II. They are traditionally met by counter-protests that have sometimes turned violent.
The thousands of people with white roses pinned on their lapels who participated in this year's human chain, encircled the city center for 10 minutes starting at 2 pm (1300 GMT), when bells tolled from all the churches.
"The people of Dresden are defending their remembrance," said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who participated in the event along with other politicians.
"The people of Dresden have once again made clear that the city is theirs and that there is no space for rightist extremists," the premier of the state of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich, said.
A large police contingent was deployed in the city, with the area where the neo-Nazis were to march in the afternoon mostly blocked off and guarded by armored vehicles and water cannons.