Friday, 8 January 2016

Cologne police chief removed after New Year Eve attacks

  • 1 hour ago
  • From the sectionEurope
Police officers standing outside the main station next to Cologne cathedral, 6 January 2016Image copyrightEPA
Image captionReports of mass sexual assaults on women at New Year led to an increased police presence in the square outside the main station next to Cologne cathedral
The head of Cologne's police force is leaving his post "to restore public trust in the police" following scores of attacks on women in the city on New Year's Eve.
The state interior minister said on Friday that he had placed Wolfgang Albers in temporary retirement.
The police's handling of the night's events has been sharply criticised.
The violence outside the main railway station has sparked a debate about Germany's open door policy on migrants.
Gangs of men described as of North African and Arab appearance were reported to be behind the attacks.
A large group, numbering around 1,000, had gathered inside and in front of the station in the western city.
Victims described chaos as the men carried out dozens of sexual assaults and robberies with little apparent response from the authorities.
A man is led away by police officers at the main train station in Cologne, Germany (early 01 January 2016)Image copyrightEPA
Image captionPolice did make some arrests in the early hours of New Year's Day
Federal authorities say they have identified 18 asylum-seekers among 31 suspects linked to crimes committed in Cologne on New Year's Eve.
Earlier, Mayor Henriette Reker had spoken out against Mr Albers, saying "the relationship of trust with the police leadership" was substantially shaken, according to German media.
The police chief has been accused of holding back information about the attacks, in particular about the origin of the suspects.
The interior minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Ralf Jaeger, said his decision to remove Mr Albers would not affect the continuing investigation into the events of 31 December.
"People rightly want to know what happened on New Year's Eve, who the perpetrators are and how such events can be prevented in future," he said.
Media caption"Twenty or 30 men surrounded us and we couldn't even move anymore"
The state police in Cologne have recorded 170 complaints of crimes, 117 of which involve sexual assault. There were two allegations of rape.
Two men, aged 16 and 23 and apparently of North African origin, arrested overnight on Thursday in connection with the sex attacks, have been released without charge, according to German media.
Image copyrightAP
Image captionWolfgang Albers (right) went after criticism from Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker
Cologne police say they are currently investigating 21 people in connection with the sexual assaults. It is not known how many of these are asylum seekers.
The federal police - responsible for the station itself but not the area nearby - released information on their investigation on Friday.
"Of the 31 suspects whose names are known, 18 have asylum seeker status," federal interior ministry spokesman Tobias Plate told reporters.
The suspects include nine Algerians, eight Moroccans, four Syrians, five Iranians, two Germans and one each from Iraq, Serbia and the US, he said.

'Clear signals'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has condemned the violence, saying Germany should examine whether enough was being done to ensure foreigners convicted of crimes in the country are deported.
She said "clear signals" had to be sent to those not prepared to abide by German law.
In a separate case, police have arrested four Syrians, aged between 14 and 21, over the suspected gang rape of two teenage girls in the southern German town of Weil am Rhein on New Year's Eve, according to German media.
The attack is not believed to be connected to the events in Cologne, the police statement said.
Young men gather outside Cologne's main station on 31 DecemberImage copyrightAP
Image captionPolice say women were forced to "run the gauntlet" through gangs of drunk and aggressive men
The identification of the attackers in Cologne 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.
Officials have warned that anti-immigrant groups have been trying to use the attacks to stir up hatred.
Similar attacks to those seen in Cologne were also reported in Hamburg and in Stuttgart.
Police in several other European countries have also received complaints:
  • In Finland, police said they received reports of "widespread sexual harassment" in Helsinki on New Year's Eve, which they described as "a completely new phenomenon"
  • Police in the Swedish city of Kalmar have arrested two men over complaints by at least 15 women of sexual molestation
  • Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner pledged that police would take a "no tolerance" approach towards sexual assault after complaints of attacks in the city of Salzburg
  • Police in the Swiss city of Zurich said about six women had reported being robbed and sexually assaulted on New Year's Eve in attacks "a little bit similar" to those in Germany
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"I feel so ashamed" - Anger on Arab-language social media

Facebook user Israa Ragab: "Every time I watch the TV and hear them saying the suspects could be from North Africa or Arabs I feel so ashamed and disgusted"
Deutsche Welle Arabic journalist Nahla Elhenawy: "The ugliness of our region is reaching Germany"
@Farcry99 on Twitter: "Will Europe regret receiving people who suffer from religious and political repression?"

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