Racist attack in eastern Germany fuels World Cup fears
Fears are growing that the World Cup could be marred by neo-Nazi violence after a black German is attacked in Potsdam near Berlin. Leon Mangasarian reports.
The arrest of suspected rightists in connection with the brutal beating of an Ethiopian-born German citizen is fuelling fears that neo-Nazi violence could overshadow the upcoming football World Cup being held in Germany.
Germany's Federal Prosecutor said the attack in the eastern city of Potsdam, which left the 37-year-old Ph.D. student and father of two in a coma, had probably been carried out due to "hatred towards foreigners and with a far-right motivation."
Media reports described the two suspects, aged 29 and 30, as being shaved-head bodybuilders who worked as bouncers at bars and discos.
Police had been following leads from the victim's mobile phone which was connected to his wife's voice-mail box after he made a desperate call for help while being beaten.
The attackers were recorded as they screamed "dirty nigger" and "pig" while hitting and kicking the victim identified as Ermyas M.
The attackers only fled when a taxi driver intervened in the incident at a tram stop early Sunday morning.
"One more kick or hit and the man would probably have been dead," said Benedikt Welfens, Potdam's chief prosecutor.
Doctors, who had to open the victim's skull to reduce pressure from bleeding, said it was unclear if Ermyas S. has suffered brain damage. Almost all the victim's ribs were broken in the attack, they said.
German media has given blanket coverage to the assault and the tram station where the victim was found has been covered with flowers and candles.
"Two foreigner-haters captured!" screamed the country's biggest selling Bild Zeitung tabloid after the arrests, adding: "If they are guilty then lock them up for life! This is the only signal for zero-tolerance to racism in Germany!"
Nevertheless, fears are growing for the safety of players and fans from the five African countries and seven central and South American nations taking part in the World Cup hosted in Germany from June 9 to July 9.
On Thursday, a Nigerian government delegation abruptly cancelled reservations for hotel rooms in Potsdam "due to fears of being attacked," sources at the hotel told Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
Economically hard-hit eastern Germany has had the highest per capita rate of neo-Nazi attacks for the past decade.
Potsdam is located in eastern Brandenburg state which in 2004 - the latest year for which data is available - had the largest number of violent neo-Nazi attacks in all of Germany's 16 federal states.
"There are no-go areas (for black people) in Berlin and Brandenburg," warned the Africa Council, a lobby umbrella group for 25 African and African-German groups in Germany.
The Africa Council plans to distribute a brochure during the World Cup warning of areas it considers dangerous for black people and foreigners.
In Berlin these include the eastern districts of Koepenick and the grim tower-block district of Marzahn-Hellersdorf built under communist East German rule.
"For black Africans living in Berlin the Wall has not yet fallen and the city is still divided," said the Tagesspiegel newspaper, adding that former East Berlin continues to be avoided by black people. The communist-built Berlin Wall was opened in 1989, one year before German reunification.
The same goes for Potsdam, with communist-era tower blocks in the southern part of the city being seen as potentially dangerous for foreigners. The historic old city and former Prussian royal palaces and parks are viewed as safe.
Berlin's Interior Senator Erhart Koerting criticized the planned "no-go" brochure for Africans and blacks.
"There is no general danger for certain groups in certain parts of the city," insisted Koerting.
Frank Henkel, a member of the opposition Christian Democrats in the city assembly, described the brochure as "crude nonsense" and "panic-mongering."
*quote1*But Africa Council chairman Moctar Kamara disagreed: "The politicians cannot really know this. They are living in a different world."
In a further neo-Nazi headache for authorities, there are fears rightists will organise marches aimed at celebrating the Iranian team taking part in the World Cup to show backing for Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has denied the Holocaust took place.
Holocaust denial is illegal under German law.
Germany's domestic security agency, the Verfassungsschutz, estimates there are currently 41,000 far-right backers in the country, of whom 10,000 are deemed to be violent neo-Nazis or skinheads.
21 April 2006
Copyright DPA with Expatica
Subject: German news, racism in Germany, neo-Nazis in Germany, attacks on foreigners