Merkel Defends Holding G20 in Hamburg Following Violent Protests

Published July 9th, 2017 - 06:00 GMT
Riot police charge forward towards protesters on July 8, 2017 in Hamburg, northern Germany as world leaders meet during the G20 summit (Christof Stache/AFP)
Riot police charge forward towards protesters on July 8, 2017 in Hamburg, northern Germany as world leaders meet during the G20 summit (Christof Stache/AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel ended a Group of 20 summit in Hamburg on Saturday by condemning violent protests that have marred the meeting, but defended her decision to hold it in a densely populated urban area.

During her final press conference, Merkel said that her government was "considering how to assist victims in the fastest and least bureaucratic way," adding that Hamburg had been chosen as a location for the summit because of its "hotel capacities."

Meanwhile, a crowd of what protesters said were 76,000 people gathered in central Hamburg for a final G20 protest - dubbed "Solidarity without borders instead of G20! - which remained peaceful through the afternoon.

Police put the number of attendees at 50,000.

There was also a second demonstration - "Hamburg Shows Attitude," which drew a crowd of 10,000 people, according to organizers, and 6,000, according to police - but it ended without incident.

As the bigger rally started moving through the city, there was a violent skirmish between police and a group of demonstrators.

Police said the perpetrators had refused to remove their masks and attacked officers with poles and glass bottles, resulting in several officers sustaining injuries and several arrests. It is illegal to cover your face during protests in Germany.

Hamburg police - who on Friday were forced to request urgent backup from across Germany, boosting their numbers from 19,000 to 21,000 - had predicted that Saturday's rally would turn violent, warning members of the public to stay away.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio - one of US President Donald Trump's sharpest critics - was due to address a crowd later in the day in an impromptu visit to Germany to support the anti-G20 protest.

At least 213 police officers had been injured and 265 protesters detained by Saturday, said a police spokesman, with the number of injured officers likely to rise throughout the day. No reliable figures were available on the number of injured protesters.

The figure for those detained stretches back to June 22, when the first activities targeting the summit began.

Clean-up operations were under way across the city after a night of violent protests that saw rioters loot supermarkets and shops, build barricades, set fire to garbage containers and attack police vehicles.

Overnight to Friday, 77 people ended up in police detention. Of those, 13 were detained when police stormed a building in the Schanzenviertel district of Hamburg, the epicentre of anti-capitalist protests against the summit.

Television footage showed officers forcing their way into buildings and standing on rooftops while helicopters with searchlights circled overhead. Armoured vehicles were used to plough through barricades.

Hamburg police spokesman Timo Zill, who was attacked by demonstrators on Thursday but managed to flee in an ambulance, told German newspaper Bild that the city's police force had "never experienced this level of hate and violence."

Protest organizers including Rote Flora - a Hamburg meeting point for left-wing groups - and anti-globalization activists Attac distanced themselves from the violence.

Andreas Blechschmidt of Rote Flora told public broadcaster NDR that the protest had "taken on a life of its own ... and we think that's wrong, both politically and in terms of its content."

"The protest is about making clear that G20 leaders are responsible for war and hunger in the world, and "not about setting fire to [supermarket] branches or residents' cars," Blechschmidt told the broadcaster.

The violence began on Thursday at the so-called "Welcome to Hell" rally, and intensified again late Friday. Although the demonstration has targeted the G20, it has sometimes devolved into fighting with police.

At times, demonstrators did manage to disrupt the programme. Trump was forced to take the long way to the summit on Friday and his first lady, Melania, couldn't leave her residence for hours due to security concerns.

In a speech on Saturday, Trump referenced the protests, saying that the German government had handled the situation professionally despite disruptions by "a few people."


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