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The image of German soccer player Jerome Boateng is printed on a Ferrero chocolate bar box in Berlin, Germany, May 25, 2016. The text at left reads 'Our soccer stars in childhood. So, recognised?' REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

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By Michael Nienaber

BERLIN (Reuters) - Online debate raged in Germany on Wednesday after supporters of anti-Islam group Pegida criticised a confectioner's decision to print images of non-white football players on its chocolate bars instead of the usual picture of a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy.

Italian confectionery group Ferrero has temporarily changed the pictures on its 'Kinder Schokolade' (Children Chocolate) in Germany to celebrate the European Football Championship, which kicks off on June 10 in France.

The new packaging shows childhood pictures of players such as Jerome Boateng, son of a Ghanaian immigrant, and Ilkay Gundogan, whose parents were born in Turkey. It also includes white players such as Mario Goetze and Christoph Kramer.

On Twitter, the hashtag #Kinderschokolade was among those trending most in Germany on Wednesday.

Ferrero's special edition packaging won praise from most users on the company's official Facebook page, but it also drew criticism from some Pegida supporters.

"They will stop at nothing. Are they really being sold like that? Or is that a joke?" the account operator of Pegida BW Bodensee wrote in a post next to a picture of chocolate boxes with Boateng and Gundogan as children.

Commenting on the post, one user wrote: "The team, there is nothing national about it anymore."

Germany won the football World Cup in 1990 with an all-white team. The squad that won in 2014 included Boateng as well as Sami Khedira, whose father is Tunisian, and Mesut Ozil, grandson of a Turkish "Gastarbeiter" (guest worker).

A Pegida spokesman could not immediately be reached to comment on the Facebook posts and tweets. The account operator of Pegida BW Bodensee said he or she had received death threats since their post went viral on social media.

Reinhard Grindel, head of the German football association DFB, said the Pegida supporters' comments were distasteful.

"The German national football team is one of the best examples of successful integration and millions of people in Germany are proud of this team because it is as it is," Grindel said.

A spokeswoman for Ferrero Germany said the company was strictly against any form of discrimination or xenophobia.

PEGIDA stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West. Its rallies drew tens of thousands of people last year, many waving German flags and chanting nationalist slogans, but its appeal has since waned as support has shifted to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany.

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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