Police detain 350 people as 'minority' of anti-austerity protesters clash with riot officers outside new ECB headquarters in Frankfurt

The demonstration, which the majority conducted peacefully, was organised by a group called Blockupy

Antonia Molloy
Wednesday 18 March 2015 12:12
Riot police use a water cannon during clashes with protesters on the opening day of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, Germany, on 18 March, 2015
Riot police use a water cannon during clashes with protesters on the opening day of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, Germany, on 18 March, 2015

Police in Frankfurt detained at least 350 people after anti-austerity protesters clashed with riot officers outside the new headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, Germany.

Just hours before the ceremonial opening of the €1.3 billion building, thousands of people descended on the area, leading to a scrum that saw seven police cars, tyres and rubbish bins set on fire.

Several thousand police officers pursued what they said was a minority of violence-minded activists, as the bulk of protesters conducted themselves peacefully ahead of a rally in the city's main square, the Roemerberg, which attracted 10,000 people.

Water cannons were employed in an attempt to make a path through the throng and at least 14 officers suffered minor injuries, police said. A further 80 suffered from contact with some kind of irritating gas or liquid during the confrontations but recovered and later returned to duty.

Police establish a wide security perimeter around the ECB site

The protest was organised by a group called Blockupy, an alliance including trade unions and anti-capitalist groups, which is named after the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis last week criticised ECB policy towards Athens as "asphyxiating", a criticism also made by the protest organisers.

Leading activists distanced themselves from the violence. Ulrich Wilken, a left-wing deputy in the regional parliament, said at news conference that he was "both depressed and horrified by what I experienced myself and saw in pictures".

However, the ceremony went ahead, with ECB President Mario Draghi saying the new building was "a symbol of what Europe can achieve together".

Activists sit and hold hands in front of a police cordon
Activists march in a demonstration organized by the Blockupy movement

At the ECB ceremony, Tarek Al-Wazir, economy minister for the Hesse region, denounced the violence. He said the protesters "have no answers... but they have some of the right questions," adding that "austerity can indeed be self-defeating".

He and several other German politicians including Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the ECB was the wrong target.

Draghi has urged more spending by governments that are in good financial shape such as Germany to help lift the economy and reduce unemployment. That advice has been ignored by the German government, which has stressed the need to balance its budget and pressed others to restrain spending.

The majority or protesters were peaceful

The ECB, along with the European Commission and International Monetary Fund, is part of the so-called "troika" that monitors compliance with the conditions of bailout loans for Greece and other financially troubled countries in Europe.

Those conditions include spending cuts and reducing deficits, moves that are aimed at reducing debt but have also been blamed for high unemployment and slow growth.

Additional reporting by agencies

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