Merkel shocked by Berlin car torching wave

18th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed shock on Thursday after arsonists torched cars in Berlin for the third night running in what officials said was likely apolitical vandalism.

Addressing a commemoration in Wiesbaden, western Germany, of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the federal police service (BKA), Merkel said the wave of attacks filled her with "great concern".

But she said she did not see any parallels to the violence, rioting and looting that have rocked British cities this month.

"I hope and am fairly confident that we in Germany will be spared from the events that we saw recently in London and other cities in Britain," she said, in remarks reported by German news agency DPA.

Mayor Klaus Wowereit called for help from the public to help end the destruction.

"This is a case of pure vandalism and criminality," Wowereit told reporters.

He called on Berliners "to help arrest the culprits by reporting suspicious activity to the police".

Police have offered a 5,000-euro ($7,200) reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators.

They believe the arson attacks are more likely the work of vandals than of politically motivated activists.

Nine cars, including two BMWs and an Audi, were set on fire overnight in the upscale district of Charlottenburg, in the west of the city, police said Thursday.

This followed similar attacks on the two previous nights which resulted in 26 cars going up in flames. The total number of cars set ablaze in the capital this year stands at 147 -- 63 of them this month alone.

"We don't rightly know the reason for it," police spokesman Guido Busch told AFP.

"But we believe it is mostly the work of a single person, or a single group of people, and that it is vandalism with no political motive," he added.

Ehrhart Koerting, the city government official in charge of police matters, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper that, overall, half the cases of arson attacks on cars in the city are believed to be carried out by left-wing extremists, while the rest are copy-cat attacks and insurance scams.

But "there are clues suggesting the latest attacks are not politically motivated," he added.

Many but not all of the cars torched have been luxury vehicles.

Left-wingers, in the past, have set fire to expensive cars in parts of the capital in the throes of gentrification, but such attacks tend to take place around May 1 when protest groups traditionally gather for demonstrations.

And in many cases extreme-left splinter groups claim responsibility for these attacks, something which has not happened this time around.

Many of the most recent attacks have been carried out with barbecue starter-packs placed under cars, next to a tyre.

Some 100 policemen are out every night, along with a helicopter equipped with a thermal vision camera, to track down the culprits, Busch said.

But in Berlin, a city of around 3.5 million people and of one million cars parked along more than 5,000 kilometres (3,100 miles) of streets, surveillance is difficult.

© 2011 AFP

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