18 asylum-seekers linked to crimes in Cologne at New Year

Jan 09, 2016, 23:46

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the violence, saying Germany should analyze whether enough was being carried out to ensure foreigners convicted of offenses in the state are deported.

The identification of the attackers as North African or Arab in appearance has caused alarm in Germany because of the influx of more than a million migrants and refugees in the past year.

Elsewhere Swiss police have said several women were also robbed and sexually assaulted in Zurich on New Year's Eve in attacks "a little bit similar" to those reported in Cologne.

Asylum seekers are now sent back only if they have been handed a sentence of at least three years and the situation in their countries is not putting their own lives at risk.

The BBC reported that German officials had warned that anti-immigrant groups have been trying to use the attacks to stir up hatred.

Around 500 women staged a noisy protest on Saturday (Jan 9) in the German city of Cologne against a shocking rash of sexual violence during New Year's festivities that was blamed on migrants.

They were detained by federal police on suspicion of committing crimes ranging from theft to assault, and in one case verbal abuse of a sexual nature, Interior Ministry spokesman Tobias Plate told reporters in Berlin. Two Germans, an Iraqi, a Serb and a United States citizen were also among those linked to crimes that night, Plate said.

"This step is important so that public trust and the Cologne police's ability to act can be restored", Ralf Jäger, the North Rhine Westphalia region's interior minister, said in a statement, quoted by Deutsche Welle, the German broadcaster.

And while Chancellor Merkel's asylum policies are controversial, she doesn't need the help of favourable police reports, he adds.

Police were said to have turned the water cannon on members of the right-wing group after a stand-off with officers threatened to boil over.

Investigators are trawling through CCTV footage and examining witness accounts to determine whether the suspects were implicated, police said.

While the group said their initiative is not "political", but aimed at making the city safer for women, police in Dusseldorf have reacted negatively, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper reported. Prosecutors said later Friday that those two were released, citing a lack of evidence against them.

The tougher immigration laws are a response to the New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Cologne.

Although authorities have said there are no indications that the perpetrators of the assaults were asylum seekers, critics of Merkel's open-door approach to those fleeing war have seized on the opportunity to draw a link.

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