German police union calls for action after New Year attacks

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's biggest police union called Tuesday for concerted action to prevent a repeat of the violent excesses seen in Berlin and other cities during the New Year's celebrations, in which officers, firefighters and medical personnel were attacked with fireworks.

Police in the capital recorded dozens of attacks and said 41 officers were injured. Online videos showing people firing rockets and throwing firecrackers at police cars and rescue vehicles drew widespread condemnation from German authorities.

The head of the GdP union, Jochen Kopelke, said there should be an “immediate debate” about the causes and consequences of such attacks, adding that they “must not be repeated at the next turn of the year.”

Kopelke said it was important to discuss the facts of what had happened and avoid blanket accusations against particular social groups.

Some conservative and far-right politicians have noted that some of the attacks took place in areas of Berlin with large immigrant communities.

Christoph de Vries, a lawmaker with the center-right Christian Democrats, wrote on Twitter that to tackle the issue of violence toward police officers and firefighters it was necessary to “talk about the role of people (with the) phenotype: West Asiatic, darker skin type.”

His comments drew accusations of racism, but De Vries said he was “ironically” referring to recent guidance by Berlin police on how to describe suspects' ethnicity and this should not distract from “the necessary discussion about migration policy and glaring deficits when it comes to integration.”

Berlin police have so far said only that out of 103 suspects released from detention, 98 were male.

The German government's top integration official, Reem Alabali-Radovan, condemned the New Year's attacks and called for those responsible to swiftly be punished “with the full force of our laws.”

In an interview with the Funke media group, she also called for the perpetrators to be judged “according to their deeds, not according to their presumed origins, as some are doing now,” warning that this could cause further divisions in society rather than address the social causes of the problem.

The attacks have also reignited a debate in Germany about the use of fireworks around New Year. The tradition suffered a blow during the pandemic, when the government banned their sale in an effort to ease the pressure on hospitals and discourage large public gatherings.

Experts say the absence of such a ban may have contributed to the scale of violence and large number of fireworks injuries — including at least one death — seen this year.

The GdP union's regional head in Berlin, Stephan Weh, suggested it was time to consider a nationwide ban on pyrotechnics, saying the attacks in the capital had shown how they can be used “as weapons against people.”

The Associated Press