Angela Merkel pledges crackdown on Germany criminal asylum seekers

January 10, 2016 7:50 am

 Demonstrators
protest against racism and sexism in the wake of the sexual assaults on
New Year’s Eve, outside the cathedral in Cologne, . Photo / AP

Women’s rights activists, far-right demonstrators and leftwing
counter-protesters 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 ’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 counter-demonstrators 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 counter-protesters 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, cell phones 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.

Right-wing demonstrators hold a sign 'Rapefugees not welcome - !Stay away!' and a sign with a crossed out mosque as they march in Cologne. Photo / AP
Right-wing demonstrators hold a sign
‘Rapefugees not welcome – !Stay away!’ and a sign with a crossed out
mosque as they march in Cologne. Photo / AP

Police drive back right-wing demonstrators with a water cannon in Cologne. Photo / AP
Police drive back right-wing demonstrators with a water cannon in Cologne. Photo / AP
“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, and none were accused of specifically
committing sexual assaults.
Cologne police on Saturday said more
than 100 detectives are assigned to the case and are investigating 379
criminal complaints filed with them, about 40 percent of which involve
allegations of sexual offenses.
“The people in the focus of the
criminal investigation are primarily from North African countries,”
police said. “Most are asylum seekers or people living illegally in
Germany. The investigation into if, and how widely, these people were
involved in concrete criminal activity on New Year’s Eve is ongoing.”
Witness
Lieli Shabani told the Guardian newspaper the attacks appeared
coordinated, saying she watched from the steps of the city’s cathedral
as three men appeared to be giving instructions to others.
“One
time a group of three or four males would come up to them, be given
instructions and sent away into the crowd,” the 35-year-old teacher was
quoted as saying. “Then another group of four or five would come up, and
they’d gesticulate in various directions and send them off again.”
National
broadcaster ARD called the attacks a “wake-up call” that illuminates
the difficulty that lies ahead for Germany of integrating the newcomers.
“But
we must not give in to our fears,” ARD said. “If we now take all the
refugees into custody, if we erect fences around our homes and country,
if we join the swing to the right that some of our neighbors have, then
we give up all we have achieved.”
Cologne’s police chief was
dismissed Friday amid mounting criticism of his force’s handling of the
incidents, and for being slow with releasing information.
Speaking
in Mainz, Merkel said local authorities must not be perceived to be
withholding information and urged that the case be “fully clarified.”
“Everything has to be put on the table,” she said.
The
proposal passed by her CDU party’s leaders would strengthen the ability
of police to conduct checks of identity papers, and also to exclude
foreigners from being granted asylum if they have been convicted of
crimes and sentenced to terms even as light as probation.
“Serial
offenders who consistently, for example, return to theft or time and
again insult women must count on the force of the law,” Merkel said.

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