Tuesday 28 June 2016

Fury over silence on 'mass sex attacks' in Germany

Justin Hagler

Published 07/01/2016 | 02:30

Assault victim named as Michelle. Photo: Cen N-tv
Assault victim named as Michelle. Photo: Cen N-tv

Police and media in Germany have been accused of silence on a wave of New Year's Eve assaults by men 'of north African or Arab appearance' because of fears of stirring social tensions.

Public anger is growing over a series of sexual assaults against women in the centres of Cologne, Hamburg and Frankfurt on New Year's Eve, amid suggestions that authorities were slow to act due to political sensitivity surrounding the perpetrators' ethnicities.

Many are asking how a crowd of some 1,000 men "of North African or Arab appearance" were able to take over the area around Cologne's main train station on New Year's Eve and allegedly assault dozens of women with impunity.

And in scenes similar to those in Cologne, several women have reported New Year sexual assaults to police in Frankfurt and Hamburg.

Criticism of the German media is also mounting after the incidents went unreported for five days.

One victim, a German woman named only as Michelle, went on national TV and caused a wave of anger when she spoke of the sex attackers in Cologne. She said that she was surrounded by a gang of 30 "angry" men forcing her group of female friends to huddle together, holding hands for protection.

"They were full of anger, and we had to make sure that none of us were pulled away by them. They were groping us and we were trying to get away as quickly as possible," said the 18 year-old.

Describing how she had gone out around 11pm she said she found the main station full of young men.

Now senior politicians have accused the press of self-censorship over fears the men's reported ethnicities could lead to scapegoating of migrants in general, amid tensions in Germany over its high levels of refugee arrivals.

More than 120 criminal complaints have been filed by women in Cologne who were sexually assaulted or robbed, including at least one case of rape. There were at least 60 complaints in Frankfurt and 40 in Hamburg.

Authorities have said there is no concrete indication that the perpetrators were asylum seekers who arrived in last year's record influx, but opponents of Angela Merkel's welcoming policy towards migrants have leapt on the possible link.

The Cologne police chief has rejected calls for his resignation as government ministers demand answers.

Even Thomas de Maiziere, the German interior minister, has spoken out in rare public criticism of the police. "I expect urgent clarification: was it organised, was it really North Africans, and how could they say it all went peacefully the next day," Mr de Maiziere said.

"It can't be that you clear the station area because fireworks were thrown, and later these events take place and you wait for complaints to be filed. The police should not work like that," he said.

"We were there in force, we were not overwhelmed," Wolfgang Albers, the Cologne police chief said, rejecting calls for his resignation.

Police have identified three suspects, Ralf Jäger, the state interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia said last night.

But he said they would not be publicly named for fear it could compromise police investigations.

Earlier, the German police union said it feared arrests were unlikely so long after the assaults. Meanwhile, questions are being asked over why it took so long for the media to report the incidents.

The ZDF public broadcaster issued an apology after it failed to include the assaults in its main evening news broadcast on Tuesday.

Hans-Peter Freidrich, a former interior minister, accused the media of imposing a "news blackout" and operating a "code of silence" over negative news about immigrants.

"It's a scandal that it took days for the media to pick up the reports," Mr Friedrich, who was Angela Merkel's interior minister from 2011 to 2013, said.

Meanwhile the Mayor of Cologne came under fire after she said that women should adopt a "code of conduct" to prevent future attacks following the incident. In an interview, Henriette Reker (pictured below) said: "It is important to prevent such incidents from ever happening again."

Such a code for young women and girls was designed "so such things do not happen to them," said Ms Reker. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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