German far-right protesters clash with police after Cologne attacks

German far-right protesters clash with police after Cologne attacks
Members of the xenophobic PEGIDA movement have marched against migrants in Cologne after a series of sexual assaults in the German city on New Years Eve.
4 min read
09 January, 2016

Chanting "Merkel out" and waving German flags, supporters of the anti-immigration Pegida movement vented their anger Saturday against migrants and refugees.

It comes after a rash of sexual assaults in the western city of Cologne during New Year celebrations, which Berlin has now blamed on "illegal immigrants".

Carrying banners and signs bearing offensive slogans such as "Rapefugees not welcome", the far-right protesters took aim at German leader Angela Merkel who has pushed her government to accept more refugees fleeing war in Syria and Iraq.

They accused the chancellor of allowing migrants to "run amok" in Germany, through her liberal stance the refugee issue.

"Merkel has become a danger to our country. Merkel must go," a member of PEGIDA told the crowd, which echoed the call.

Cologne police said Saturday the number of cases filed over violence during New Year's festivities had reached 379, and that asylum seekers and illegal migrants made up the majority of suspects.

"Those in focus of criminal police investigations are mostly people from North African countries. The majority of them are asylum seekers and people who are in Germany illegally," police said in a statement, adding that around 40 percent of the cases related to sexual assault.

Mass attacks

Police statements that at least some of the men identified so far are refugees, is feeding the propaganda of right-wing groups opposed to Germany's open-door refugee policy.

Germany took in approximately 1.1 million migrants and refugees in 2015.

However, after recent uproar in Germany following 379 reported acts of violence during New Year festivities - the majority from asylum seeker suspects, Berlin says - Merkel said she would back tougher expulsion rules for convicted refugees.

Many Syrian refugees and activists in Europe have backed the tough new move.

The new law would declare any refugee handed a jail term - even if it is only a suspended sentence - should be kicked out of the country.

"If the law does not suffice, then the law must be changed," she said, vowing action to protect not just German citizens, but innocent refugees too.

"These women who fell victim will have to live with it for a long time. I feel like my freedom has been robbed from me," a mother of four introduced as Christiane told the rally.

"These women who fell victim will have to live with it for a long time. I feel like my freedom has been robbed from me," a mother of four introduced as Christiane told the Pediga rally.

"That's impossible. Frau Merkel, Frau Reker, you are women! Where is your solidarity? What are women worth in this society?" she said, referring to Henriette Reker, who is mayor of Cologne who was stabbed last year by a man with far-right views.

The crowd chanted "We are the people" and "Those who don't love this country should disappear".

Some also heckled police chanting, "where, where, where were you on New Year's eve?"

'Nazis out'

As tensions continued, leftist demonstrators staged a counter-protest.

Kept at bay from the far-right crowd by police they chanted "Nazis raus!" (Nazis out!).

"There is nothing right about Nazi propaganda," said a slogan on the sign held up by one protester, while another read "Fascism is not an opinion, it is a crime".

Kept at bay from the PEGIDA crowd by police, members of a counter-protest chanted "Nazis raus!" (Nazis out!).

"We are there to tell them to shut up. It is unacceptable for Pegida to exploit this horrible sexual violence perpetrated here on New Year's day and to spread their racist nonsense," said Emily Michels.

Half a dozen Iraqi and Syrian refugees were also part of the counter-demonstration group. 

One Jordan-born woman running their local shelter saying they had joined in the rally after hearing about the attacks.

"I told them that the demonstration is about women's rights and against sexism and against faciscm, and they said they wanted absolutely to be part of it," said Khamis, 27.

Pegida started life over a year ago as a xenophobic Facebook group. 

Supporters then held rallies in the eastern city of Dresden - associated with far-right marches - before gaining strength and seeing 25,000 attend demonstrations. 

Its recent revival has been put down to a record influx of migrants to Germany.