Scores injured in anti-austerity riots against ECB's new HQ

18th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

Violent clashes between anti-capitalist activists and German police left dozens injured and a trail of destruction in Germany's financial capital as the European Central Bank opened its new headquarters on Wednesday.

In fierce street battles that began in the early hours of Wednesday in the well-heeled western city, 14 German police and 21 anti-capitalist protesters were injured, police and rally organisers said.

Police also said they had made 16 arrests by 1330 GMT, mostly on charges of disturbing the peace and arson after seven police cars were set ablaze.

They added that 80 of their officers had been hurt by an irritant gas, but were back on duty, while Blockupy protest organisers said on Twitter that 107 demonstrators were hurt by tear gas and pepper spray.

Blockupy attempted to distance itself from the violence, which was timed to protest the ECB's new over one-billion-euro towering headquarters.

"I would have hoped that the morning protests would be very different," the organisation's spokesman Ulrich Wilken told a news conference. "This is not what we in Blockupy had planned."

At the same time, Wilken said he "understood" people's anger at the "policies of impoverishment" being imposed by governments on people in the crisis-hit countries.

However attacks on fire brigade vehicles have no place in demonstrations in Germany, Wilken insisted.

Another Blockupy spokesman, Christoph Kleine, estimated that around 6,000 activists had taken part in the morning's activities, including 1,000 from outside Germany.

- Peaceful afternoon rally -

A march through the city centre and rally on Frankfurt's historic Roemerberg square later in the afternoon attracted as many as 10,000 people, but remained peaceful, even as police helicopters circled overhead.

Kleine argued that police should shoulder some of the blame for the morning's violence, accusing them of using excessive force to provoke demonstrators.

In Berlin, leading politicians condemned the chaotic scenes.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that "no-one has the right to threaten life and limb of police and firefighters".

Economy Minister and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said that to blame the ECB for Europe's woes "testifies to a significant lack of understanding about what the ECB is currently doing for cohesion in Europe".

The target of protesters' anger was the ECB's spectacular 185-metre (605-foot) high, 1.3-billion-euro ($1.4-billion) twin-tower headquarters, officially opened by the central bank's president Mario Draghi at 11:00 am (1000 GMT).

Addressing some 100 invited guests at a low-key ceremony, Draghi rejected blame for the suffering brought by budget cuts and austerity policies amid the financial crisis in Europe.

"As an EU institution that has played a central role throughout the crisis, the ECB has become a focal point for those frustrated with this situation," Draghi said.

"This may not be a fair charge -- our action has been aimed precisely at cushioning the shocks suffered by the economy," he said. "But as the central bank of the whole euro area, we must listen very carefully to what all our citizens are saying."

Referring directly to the protests outside, Draghi said it was a "very difficult situation."

And he offered "truly special and warmest thanks to the police and the security forces for their action and their efforts in maintaining the security".

- Biggest police deployment -

Authorities have mobilised one of the biggest ever police deployments in the city.

Frankfurt has seen its share of street violence. At a rally in March 2012, a policeman was seriously injured when protesters went on the rampage in the city centre, causing around one million euros worth of damage.

At a subsequent demonstration in May 2012, there were around 20,000 marchers, but the rally remained mostly peaceful as more than 5,000 police sealed off large parts of the city.

Blockupy brings together anti-capitalist and anti-austerity protestors from across Europe. They camped out in tents at the foot of the ECB's old Eurotower headquarters in Frankfurt for months in 2013.

Speakers at the final rally on Frankfurt's central "Roemerberg" square included members of protest groups such as Attac, as well as trade unions.

Representatives from Greece's governing leftist Syriza party, and Miguel Urban of Spain's left-wing Podemos were also in attendance.

The inauguration ceremony was symbolic as the ECB's staff already moved into the new building overlooking the Main river late last year.

Until last year, the ECB, which took over monetary policy in the single currency area in 1998, had been housed in a skyscraper, known as the Eurotower, in downtown Frankfurt.

Work began in 2008 on the new headquarters incorporating the historic Grossmarkthalle, a wholesale food market.

© 2015 AFP

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