German police arrest 211 as far-Right goes on rampage
Published 13/01/2016 | 02:30
German police say they have arrested 211 far-Right extremists who went on a rampage on the sidelines of a xenophobic rally in Leipzig, setting cars on fire and smashing windows.
Germany has recorded a sharp jump in crime attributed to the far-Right in tandem with the surge in asylum seekers, which reached 1.1 million last year.
The extremists are known to police as football hooligans, and had wrought chaos at an area of the eastern city known to be left-leaning, just as thousands of far-Right supporters of the anti-migrant PEGIDA movement were gathering at a peaceful demonstration, authorities said.
Germany has been outraged by a rash of crime targeting women at New Year's festivities in Cologne that has been blamed on migrants.
Germany plans to make it easier to deport criminal foreigners following the New Year's Eve assaults in Cologne.
Police say 553 criminal complaints have been filed in connection with the assaults, with about 45pc involving allegations of sexual offences. Most of the suspects identified so far are foreign nationals.
Many asylum seekers who commit crimes currently avoid deportation because the danger they face in their home country is considered greater than the reason for deporting them.
Interior minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters in Berlin: "With this proposal we are significantly lowering the hurdles for the possible expulsion of foreigners who have committed crimes in Germany."
The changes, which have to be approved by the cabinet and parliament, would mean that even a suspended prison sentence would be grounds for deportation if someone is found guilty of certain crimes. These include homicide, bodily harm, sexual assault, violent theft and serial shoplifting. Youth sentences would be covered.
A sentence of more than one year would further increase the likelihood of deportation, Mr de Maiziere said. "That's a hard but right response by the state to those who are seeking protection here, but think they can commit crimes" without consequences for their right to remain in Germany, he said.
Justice minister Heiko Maas said public pressure after the Cologne assaults played a role in getting the plan agreed so quickly.
"We owe this to the victims of these serious crimes," he said, adding that the measures were also necessary "to protect the overwhelming majority of innocent refugees in Germany. They don't deserve to be lumped together with criminal foreigners". Mr Maas said changes would be made to Germany's sex crime laws to ensure victims who are caught by surprise, or who fear greater physical harm if they resist assault, are better protected.
"This too is the kind of situation we had in Cologne, where people were confronted with a horde of men," he said.
Police say most of the suspects in Cologne are believed to be foreigners, including at least some asylum seekers. Many were described as being of "Arab or North African origin".
Cologne police say they have identified 23 possible suspects. Separately, federal police have identified 32 suspects, including nine Algerians.
Germany is also keen to ensure that migrants who are not granted asylum leave the country as quickly as possible.
Separately yesterday, a senior German police official said he does not believe the New Year's Eve assaults in Cologne and elsewhere were linked to organised crime.
Holger Muench, head of the Federal Criminal Police Office, said "the same conditions were in place at different locations", with crowds of people gathering to celebrate the New Year.
"I am not saying that there was no organisation, but it is not organised crime," he said. "That would have a different quality for me. We would be talking about ... hierarchical groups."
However, "what we see here is perpetrators communicating with each other and making arrangements... of course, we must recognise better where they do this, how they do this".
As thousands rallied to blame refugees for the violence, a group of hooligans broke away and smashed windows, burned cars and rubbish bins and shot off pyrotechnics that set a floor of a building on fire.