COLOGNE, Germany (UPI) — Protesters and police clashed in Cologne, Germany, following reported gang sex attacks and muggings in the city on New Year’s Eve allegedly committed by North African and Middle Eastern men.
The New Year’s Eve attacks have called into question Germany’s open-door immigration policy, which led to the protests. Police used tear gas and water cannons to battle protesters who threw beer bottles, firecrackers and stones at riot-gear-wearing officers.
German police said several officers and a freelance journalist were injured, but did not disclose the extent of their injuries. At least 15 people have been arrested. Ahead of the anti-immigration protest there was a pro-immigration protest, calling for tolerance during a tense time.
Members of the right-wing, anti-immigrant Pegida movement partly led the protesters, who sharply condemned the immigration policies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“Where were you on New Year’s Eve?” one protester yelled at police, CNN reports. “Why didn’t you protect those women?”
One sign read: “Rapefugees. Not welcome!”
In the New Year’s Eve incidents, Cologne police said they received 379 complaints — 40 percent of which were investigated as sex crimes.
Merkel recently said she was in favor of tougher deportation laws after the Cologne incidents. Current legislation only permits forced deportation for asylum seekers who are sentenced to more than three years in prison and whose lives are not at risk in their home countries.
Merkel and her party members are considering a new policy that would allow deportation for immigrants jailed for any amount of time in Germany. In December, Germany registered its 1 millionth asylum seeker.
U.N Special Representative for Migration Peter Sutherland said Merkel’s latest move seemed “entirely appropriate.”
“The full application of the criminal law against those who behave in the way that has apparently taken place is appropriate, and they should not be entitled to asylum,” Sutherland said. “However, on the other hand, one must not overreact against a whole category of people.”
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