German police blame violence on social strife

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The Independent Online
EASTERN Germany risks being consumed in a 'bushfire of violence' because of its social tensions, Hermann Lutz, the head of the German police federation, warned yesterday. Accusing politicians of failing to recognise the strength of popular feelings, he said police could not solve what are in effect political problems.

'Are we expected to beat respect for foreigners into people's heads with our truncheons?' he asked. He dismissed suggestions that many youths taking part in the violence which has scarred more than 20 eastern German towns were 'carefully manipulated by neo-Nazis'. It has much more to do, he said, with young people 'looking for an outlet from their miserable situation'.

As the attacks on hostels housing asylum-seekers continued, although on a much reduced scale, the political debate raged on yesterday about the desirability and feasibility of special anti-riot police commandos. While such specifically trained and equipped units already exist in the western German states, they are mostly lacking in the east. The suggestion of having a sort of National Guard has quickly run into much opposition from state authorities, since under German federal law, policing is a responsibility of the individual Lander. 'The formation of any such units remains for the foreseeable future the sole right of the states,' said Edmund Stoiber, Bavaria's Interior Minister.

Mr Lutz, while also categorically rejecting a national special force, said that the rapid reaction commandos set up by the individual states could be more closely linked for the specific purpose of combating the sort of extremely violent street-fighting witnessed, notably in Rostock a week ago.

Alarmed at these widespread calls for special forces and for mobile state prosecutors and special rapid on-the-spot courts to punish riot offenders, the Liberal Justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, urged that a 'sense of proportion be maintained' in reacting to the xenophobic outrages. 'This situation leads very quickly to the temptation to demand the introduction of ever tougher laws,' she said. In her view the 'current legal provisions were perfectly adequate'.

The latest opinion poll shows 60 per cent of all Germans favour a 'provisional stop' to any more asylum-seekers coming into the country. But only 13 per cent believe the violence was a 'justified expression of popular anger'.

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