Berlin pledges police backup to refugee flashpoint town

28th August 2015, Comments 0 comments

Berlin pledged Friday to send police reinforcements to the eastern German town hit by violent anti-migrant protests, as a court ruled that a ban imposed on rallies there over fears of new clashes was "clearly illegal".

The town of Heidenau has become the focus of Germany's struggle to host 800,000 asylum-seekers -- a record figure -- after far-right protests erupted against a refugee shelter over the weekend.

In a bid to prevent a repeat of the violence, the regional authorities of the eastern state of Saxony had outlawed all outdoor public gatherings in Heidenau from 2 pm Friday to 6 am Monday.

The ban meant that a party organised to welcome refugees on Friday as well as any planned rallies by the far-right were to be scrapped.

But the court said Saxony's argument did not stand up because "police forces from other states and from the federation could be made available".

"In addition, the police have the resources, including water cannon, to prevent any disproportionate damage," it said.

The decision came as the interior ministry said it would send in police reinforcements to boost security.

The regional authority of "Saxony sought the help of federal police and this support will be provided," said interior ministry spokesman Johannes Dimroth, without detailing the size of the extra forces.

Chancellor Angela Merkel herself said the federal state will "do everything possible to provide support to the Saxony police", when asked during a press conference with Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen.

Merkel has condemned the anti-migrant protests as "vile" and travelled to Heidenau in a show of support to volunteers and refugees at the shelter.

Her visit on Wednesday was met with a show of defiance by about 200 people, some of whom booed her and shouted far-right slogans including "traitor, traitor" and "we are the mob".

Pro-refugee activists had sought to mobilise against the far-right extremists by organising a welcoming party for refugees in the town.

But it had to be scrapped because of the temporary ban on public gatherings -- until the court waded in.

Emboldened by the court ruling, dozens of anti-fascist activists travelled to the town of 16,000 inhabitants, where they marched in support of migrants.

"Refugees are welcomed here", shouted some, many wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan "no one is illegal".

The activists also distributed clothes and other supplies to the 250 refugees staying at the shelter.

- 'Kneeling before the mob' -

The decision to ban public gatherings was sharply criticised by politicians and Germany's police union GdP, whose deputy chief Joerg Radek described it as "kneeling before the mob in Heidenau".

It is "a slap in the face" for all "those who stand against the stupid cheap propaganda of the far right," said Radek.

Opposition Greens party leader Cem Ozdemir told public broadcaster ARD that the decision effectively "overwrites democracy for four days because the Saxony state is overwhelmed".

The sudden surge in people seeking refugee in Europe's biggest economy has exposed anti-migrant sentiment, particularly in the eastern part of the country which lags behind the west in terms of jobs and opportunities 25 years after reunification.

A spate of arson attacks have hit refugee shelters in recent weeks.

Local police reported Friday an apparent arson attempt against an asylum-seekers' shelter in a northwestern town.

A Molotov cocktail was flung into a former school building now serving as a refugee home, they said.

A woman and her three children living at the shelter in Salzhemmendorf were not hurt as fire fighters were able to put out the flames quickly, police said.

© 2015 AFP

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