Berlin braces for wave of protests

29th April 2004, Comments 0 comments

Berlin is facing several days of mass protests with extra police reinforcements having being called in to assist in what media in the German capital are calling a state of siege. Ernest Gill reports.


May Day rioting is the biggest concern

Some 15,000 police officers are donning riot gear as Berlin braces for five days which will see: an international conference on anti-Semitism, a visit by top US and Israeli officials, a 1 May march by 200,000 angry trade unionists, a rally by thousands of neo-Nazis and two nights of nocturnal May Day rioting by radical leftists.

Police reinforcements have been called in from throughout the nation to assist local authorities in what the local media are calling "a state of siege" which will last through the weekend.

It is the biggest security operation the German capital has seen since 10,000 police were deployed for the May 2002 visit of US President George W Bush.

*quote1*Included among those visiting Berlin this week are US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Israeli President Moshe Katzav and 400 other dignitaries from 55 countries plus non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who will take part in the two-day anti-Semitism conference in Berlin.

Security measures for Powell and Katsav alone are costing Berlin taxpayers more than a million euros, according to Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Then on Friday, several hundred high-ranking officials from all across Europe will converge on Berlin's central Gendarmen Markt plaza to take part in ceremonies marking the expansion of the European Union (EU) to include 10 new member nations in Eastern Europe.

It will be a tense Friday evening, since that is Walpurgis Night or May Eve - an evening when leftist radicals joined by drunken youths from the Turkish ghetto traditionally go on a rampage of violence usually lasting two nights.

burning car

Masked youths are expected to set fire to cars

Then on Saturday, an estimated 200,000 trade unionists plan to take part in traditional 1 May parades through the heart of the city. This year the parades will take on an angry tone, with marchers outraged over the federal government's cuts in health care, social services and old-age pensions.

Meanwhile Saturday, some 2,500 neo-Nazis plan to hold a rally in eastern Berlin, with leftist counter-demonstrators vowing to stop them.

The leftist May Day rioting is the biggest concern, and tensions are already running high in the "urban pioneer" district of Prenzlauer Berg and the Turkish ghetto of Kreuzberg.

Shopkeepers are already covering plate-glass windows with boarding and residents are making plans to park their cars in other parts of the city.

*quote2*For the past 18 years, the May Day rioting has rocked Berlin with unfailing and almost Prussian regularity. The fact that 1 May falls on a weekend this year, virtually guarantees that Friday and Saturday nights will see hundreds of masked youths smash store windows and overturn and set fire to cars.

In what has become a bizarre annual rite of spring in Berlin, the rioting always begin after night falls on what are otherwise festive street fairs and May Day parades and rallies, many of which usually have a festive picnic atmosphere.

Fuelled by alcohol, often looted from plundered shops, youthful mobs stage all-night cat-and-mouse running street battles with riot police, lobbing cobblestones and Molotov cocktails at officers and dodging water cannon vehicles.

The first rioting occurred on 1 May 1987, when left protesters took to the streets to protest against what they termed a "bourgeois" celebration of the 750th founding of the city of Berlin.

The rioting has been repeated every year since 1987, first in West Berlin and then, following German unification in 1990, in both halves of united Berlin.

Local business and religious leaders this year have launched a campaign aimed at averting violence. But long-time residents are doubtful, considering the fact that rioting has occurred 17 years in a row and that tensions have mounted.

In the aftermath of last year's rioting, with gutted shops and burned-out cars lining streets in the multi-ethnic Kreuzberg district, angry residents lashed out at openly gay Mayor Klaus Wowereit for jetting off to America for a gay pride festival during the unrest.

Wowereit's fragile leftwing coalition of Social Democrats and former East Berlin communists has adopted a "soft glove" approach to the rioting for three years in a row.

April 2004


 [Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: German news, May Day, international conference on anti-Semitism

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