Pressure mounts on Merkel, Cologne report released

  • 12/01/2016
Flowers and posters in the square between the city cathedral and the railway station in Cologne where dozens of assaults on women took place (Reuters)
Flowers and posters in the square between the city cathedral and the railway station in Cologne where dozens of assaults on women took place (Reuters)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing growing pressure to harden her line on refugees as the first extensive police report on New Year's Eve violence in Cologne documented rampant sexual assaults on women by gangs of young migrant men.

Cologne police said at least 11 foreigners, including Pakistanis, Guineans and Syrians, had been injured on Sunday evening in attacks by hooligans bent on revenge for the assaults in the city.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere on Monday condemned those attacks and warned against a broader backlash against refugees following the events in Cologne, which have deepened scepticism towards Merkel's policy of welcoming migrants.

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party seized on the latest developments to attack the chancellor, while members of her own conservative party warned that integrating the hundreds of thousands of migrants who arrived last year would fail if the influx were not stopped immediately.

"If the influx continues as it has, then integration can't work," said Carsten Linnemann, a politician in Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Some 516 criminal complaints had been registered in relation to the New Year celebrations in Cologne, 237 of which were of a sexual nature.

A police report gave graphic descriptions of the crimes, listing case after case of women surrounded by gangs of men who put their hands in the victims' pants and skirts, grabbed them between the legs, on the buttocks and the breasts, often while stealing their wallets and cell phones.

A total of 19 suspects have been identified, all of them foreigners.

Ralf Jaeger, interior minister of North Rhine-Wesphalia, where Cologne lies, spoke of "serious failures" by the police in not calling for reinforcements.

He also criticised them for refusing to communicate following New Year's Eve that the vast majority of the perpetrators were people with migration backgrounds, blaming this on misguided "political correctness".

A survey conducted by polling group Forsa for RTL television showed that 60 percent of respondents saw no reason to change their attitude towards foreigners after the assaults.

About 37 percent said they viewed foreigners more critically.

Merkel has repeatedly resisted pressure to introduce a cap on the number of migrants entering Germany, arguing that this could be enforced only by shutting German borders, a step that would doom Europe's Schengen free-travel zone.

She has talked tougher in recent months, vowing in December to "measurably reduce" arrivals and promising at the weekend to give authorities more powers to crack down on migrants who commit crimes, including deporting them.

But her opponents have been swift to blame her for the events in Cologne.

"Anyone who opens the borders wide must know that they are bringing Tahrir Square to Germany," leading AfD politician Dirk Driesang said, referring to the square in Cairo that was the scene of killings and sexual assaults in 2011.