Op­pos­ing pro­test­ers fill streets in Cologne Merkel pro­poses stricter im­mi­grant laws

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By David Ris­ing and Dorothee Thiesing

cologne, ger­many» Women’s rights ac­tivists, far-right demon­stra­tors and left­wing coun­ter­protesters took to the streets of Cologne on Satur­day to voice their opin­ions in the de­bate that has fol­lowed a string of New Year’s Eve sex­ual as­saults and rob­beries blamed largely on for­eign­ers.

Amid the height­ened pub­lic pres­sure, Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s party pro­posed stricter laws reg­u­lat­ing asy­lum-seek­ers in the coun­try — some 1.1 mil­lion of whom ar­rived last year.

Po­lice said that around 1,700 pro­test­ers from the anti-Is­lam Pegida move­ment were kept apart from 1,300 coun­ter­demon­stra­tors in si­mul­ta­ne­ous protests out­side the city’s main train sta­tion.

Pegida mem­bers held ban­ners with slo­gans like “RAPEfugees not wel­come” and “In­te­grate bar­bar­ity?” while the coun­ter­protesters pushed the mes­sage “refugees wel­come.”

Specifics of the New Year’s Eve as­saults and who were be­hind them are still be­ing in­ves­ti­gated. The at­tack­ers were among about 1,000 men gath­ered at Cologne’s cen­tral train sta­tion, some of whom broke off into small groups and sur­rounded women, grop­ing them and steal­ing their purses, cell­phones and other be­long­ings, ac­cord­ing to au­thor­i­ties and wit­ness re­ports. There are also two al­le­ga­tions of rape.

The Pegida demon­stra­tion Satur­day was shut down early by au­thor­i­ties us­ing wa­ter can­nons af­ter pro­test­ers threw fire­crack­ers and bot­tles at some of the 1,700 po­lice on hand. Po­lice said four peo­ple were taken into cus­tody but no in­juries were im­me­di­ately re­ported.

Ear­lier, hun­dreds of women’s rights ac­tivists gath­ered out­side Cologne’s land­mark cathe­dral to rally against the New Year’s Eve vi­o­lence.

“It’s about mak­ing clear that we will not stop mov­ing around freely here in Cologne, and to protest against vic­tim bash­ing and the abuse of women,” said 50-year-old city res­i­dent Ina Wolf.

In re­sponse to the in­ci­dents, Merkel said her CDU party on Satur­day had ap­proved a pro­posal seek­ing stricter laws reg­u­lat­ing asy­lum seek­ers.

Merkel said the pro­posal, which will be dis­cussed with her coali­tion part­ners and would need par­lia­men­tary ap­proval, would help Ger­many de­port “se­rial of­fend­ers” con­victed of lesser crimes.

“This is in the in­ter­ests of the cit­i­zens of Ger­many, but also in the in­ter­ests of the great ma­jor­ity of the refugees who are here,” Merkel told party mem­bers in Mainz.

How­ever, she also re­it­er­ated her mantra on the refugee is­sue, in­sist­ing again “we will man­age it.”

Bonn Univer­sity political sci­en­tist Til­man Mayer said he doesn’t see the CDU pro­posal as ei­ther a change of course, nor one likely to dis­pel many Ger­mans’ con­cerns.

“This is just a build­ing block in a chain of state­ments from the govern­ment and also the chan­cel­lor,” he said on Phoenix tele­vi­sion.

Though Merkel has de­cried the as­saults as “re­pug­nant crim­i­nal acts that ... Ger­many will not ac­cept,” they pro­vide fod­der for those who have op­posed her open-door pol­icy and re­fusal to set a cap on refugee num­bers.

In­flu­en­tial Ham­burg broad­caster NDR said in an opin­ion piece posted on­line Fri­day that such crimes threaten to push xeno­pho­bia to­ward the “middle of the pop­u­la­tion” — which could lead to a back­lash against refugees.

“And who is to blame mainly?” the edi­to­rial asked. “Th­ese young, testos­terone-driven time bombs with their im­age of women from the Middle Ages.”

De­spite the harsh rhetoric, the case is not yet that clear and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing.

Of 31 sus­pects tem­po­rar­ily de­tained for ques­tion­ing fol­low­ing the New Year’s Eve at­tacks, there were 18 asy­lum seek­ers but also two Ger­mans and an Amer­i­can among oth­ers.

Sup­port­ers of Pegida, Ho­gesa and other right-wing pop­ulist groups gather Satur­day to protest against the New Year’s Eve sex at­tacks in Cologne, Ger­many. Over 100 women have filed charges of sex­ual mo­lesta­tion, rob­bery and rape from ag­gres­sive grop­ing and other be­hav­ior by gangs of drunken men de­scribed as Arab or North African at Haupt­bahn­hof on New Year’s Eve. Sascha Schuer­mann, Getty Im­ages

A flash mob gath­ers in front of Haupt­bahn­hof ’s main rail­way sta­tion to protest. Sascha Schuer­mann, Getty Im­ages

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