Monday May 20, 2024

German leaders call for crackdown amid pro-Palestinian protests

Published : 20 Oct 2023, 00:21

  By Niklas Bröckl, Theresa Münch and Ulrich Steinkohl, dpa
Police officers stand guard during a banned pro-Palestine demonstration at Sonnenallee in the Neukoelln district, Berlin on Wednesday. Photo: Paul Zinken/dpa.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has called for rigorous government action against anti-Semitism and hostility toward Israel in Germany, speaking hours after police in Berlin again clashed with pro-Palestinian protesters.

A "clear-cut position is called for" and one must not look the other way, Scholz told lawmakers in Germany's parliament on Thursday.

"Anti-Semitism is out of place in Germany, and we will do everything we can to stand against it. We will do that as citizens, and as those who bear political responsibility."

It is also a matter of enforcing existing laws and regulations, Scholz said.

Police in Berlin arrested at least 174 people overnight at pro-Palestinian rallies in the German capital that in some cases became what authorities described as riots.

Pro-Palestinian protesters have repeatedly clashed with police in Germany in recent days. A police spokeswoman said that one officer was forced off-duty by injury overnight, while 64 others suffered more minor injuries.

Since Palestinian militant group Hamas launched attacks on Israel on October 7, there have been a number of pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Berlin and other German cities, at which some participants have cheered Hamas or chanted anti-Semitic slogans.

German authorities have largely banned violent rallies or demonstrations expressing support for the Palestinian cause or criticizing Israel, and have moved to break up unauthorized gatherings.

Scholz called for an even tougher line from authorities, urging them to ban all gatherings where there is a risk of anti-Semitic slogans being shouted, where the killing of people might be glorified and other things "which we cannot accept here."

Centre-right opposition leader Friedrich Merz said he expects "a tough crackdown by police and the judiciary" against certain protesters in Germany to show that "hatred of Jews and violent hostility against Israel must have no place in our country."

Merz, who leads the CDU/CSU bloc, warned of a "openly erupting conflict" in European countries as a result of the war in Gaza.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser also "strongly condemned" the clashes in Berlin as she arrived at a meeting of EU home affairs ministers in Luxembourg on Thursday.

"Yes, we have a high degree of freedom of assembly and it is also fine when people demonstrate on the streets. But what is not OK is the use of violence, and certainly not against police forces," Faeser said.

"This is why I strongly condemn the attacks on police officers last night."

Clashes in the German capital have at times centred on the district of Neukölln, home to many Muslim immigrants.

A dpa reporter described the scene in Neukölln on Wednesday night as very heated, as riot police moved in against demonstrators who set fire to garbage cans and tyres and threw fireworks, bottles and stones. Four cars and a van were also set on fire.

Similar clashes occurred on Tuesday night as well.

Early on Wednesday morning, two masked individuals threw Molotov cocktails toward a synagogue and Jewish centre in Berlin.

The bottles smashed on the pavement and did not damage the building, but the attempted arson attack provoked outrage and horror across Germany.

Top German politicians swifty condemned the incident and pledged increased security for Jewish institutions.

The culprits managed to escape, despite police guards being present outside the synagogue. On Thursday Berlin's public prosecutor's office announced it was taking over the investigation into the attack.