COLOGNE: German authorities are on Monday set to release the first details of their probe into a rash of assaults on New Year’s Eve blamed on migrants, as police revealed that the number of complaints filed has topped 500.
Ralf Jaeger, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, is expected to unveil the details when he faces a grilling by regional lawmakers over the crime spree against women that has piled pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel over her liberal stance towards refugees.
Even though no formal charges have been laid, Cologne police have said those suspected over the rampage near the city’s railway station were mostly asylum seekers and illegal migrants from North Africa.
After far-right protests erupted in Cologne during the weekend, a sister group of the xenophobic PEGIDA movement is due to hold another rally later Monday in the eastern city of Leipzig.
In the face of outrage over the Cologne violence, Merkel has taken a tough line against convicted refugees.
She has signalled her backing for changes to the law to ease expulsion rules, with officials within her ruling coalition expected to swiftly negotiate the proposals this week.
Police said late Sunday that more than a week on from New Year’s Eve, some 516 complaints had now been lodged, including 40 per cent that are related to sexual assault.
Witnesses described terrifying scenes of hundreds of women running a gauntlet of groping hands, lewd insults and robberies in the mob violence.
The scale of the Cologne assaults has shocked Germany and put a spotlight on the 1.1 million asylum seekers who arrived in the country last year.
It has also fuelled fear, with a poll published by the Bild am Sonntag newspaper saying that 39pc of those surveyed felt police did not provide sufficient protection, while 57pc did.
And just under half (49pc) believed the same sort of mob violence could hit their hometown, reported the newspaper which headlined its article with the question: “Is the New Year’s Eve scandal the result of wrong policies?
“A separate poll by broadcaster RTL found that 57pc of Germans feared crime would rise along with the record influx of asylum seekers, while 40pc disagreed.
Nevertheless a majority — 60pc — said their opinion of foreigners has not changed, while 37pc said they have become more critical and negative about newcomers.
‘Assaults were planned’ –
Justice Minister Heiko Maas has said he believed the violence in the western city of Cologne was organised. “For such a horde of people to meet and commit such crimes, it has to have been planned somehow,” he told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Quoting confidential police reports, Bild am Sonntag said some North Africans had sent out calls using social networks for people to gather in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.
Separately in Hamburg, police said they had received 133 criminal complaints for similar violence during the northern city’s own New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Pakistanis, Syrian attacked in Cologne amid tension
Police say a group of Pakistanis and a Syrian have been attacked in Cologne amid tensions over New Year’s Eve assaults in the city that have been blamed largely on foreigners.
They say six Pakistani nationals were attacked Sunday by a group of around 20 people and two of them were briefly admitted to a hospital.
Also on Sunday evening, a Syrian man was attacked by five people. He was injured but didn’t need treatment.
Police say they are still investigating whether the attacks were racially motivated and whether there was any link to the New Year assaults.
Those assaults have stoked tensions over Germany’s open-door policy in the refugee crisis and prompted politicians to call for tougher laws against migrants who commit crimes.
With thousands of asylum seekers still streaming into Germany every day, Merkel has come under fire from critics, even within her own conservative alliance, who want her to put a cap on the number of refugees in the country.
Critics have questioned Germany’s ability to integrate the unprecedented number of newcomers, many of whom hail from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Merkel had until now not wavered from her stance but has adopted a firmer tone after Cologne, even pledging to change the law to make it easier to expel convicted asylum seekers.
“It’s not premature to speak of a turning point (after Cologne), or at least the reinforcing of a trend that had already started to take shape lately,” Andreas Roedder, contemporary history professor at Mainz University told AFP.