Angela Merkel: Do not blame innocent refugees for Cologne attacks

Germany vows to toughen laws but warns against retaliatory attacks

A string of attacks on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve blamed largely on foreigners was “intolerable,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said, but “nothing excuses” retaliatory assaults on immigrants.

Merkel has proposed making it easier to deport immigrants involved in crimes, and her spokesman Steffen Seibert emphasised that the government is looking into both “possible consequences for criminal law (and) possible political consequences for the intolerable crimes”.

However, after Cologne police said a group of Pakistanis and a Syrian were attacked in the city on Sunday, Seibert said Germans must not blame all the nearly 1.1 million migrants who entered the country last year, and said the government is also focused on their welfare.

“We’re doing all of these things to protect the population in Germany.

"We are also doing this for the great majority of innocent refugees who have sought refuge from bombs and war in our country, and who should get this protection and who are prepared to adapt to the rules and values in our country,” he said.

The six Pakistani nationals were attacked on Sunday by about 20 people and two were admitted to a hospital, police said.

Also on Sunday evening, a Syrian man was attacked by five people. He was injured but didn’t need treatment.

Police said they received tips on Sunday afternoon about groups of people who would “seek provocation,” but were still investigating whether the subsequent attacks were racially motivated and whether there was any link to the New Year’s assaults.

Those assaults stoked tensions over Germany’s open-door policy to refugees and prompted politicians to call for tougher laws against migrants who commit crimes.

“As abominable as the crimes in Cologne and other cities were, one thing remains clear: there is no justification for blanket agitation against foreigners,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas said.

Authorities and witnesses said the New Year’s Eve attackers were among a group of about 1,000 people, described as predominantly Arab and north African men, who gathered at Cologne’s central train station.

Some broke off into small groups and groped and robbed women, police said.

Maas has said German authorities need to quickly determine whether the assaults were co-ordinated, and may have been linked to similar offences in other cities including Hamburg.

Incidents also were reported in Sweden and Finland.

North Rhine-Westphalia state police told politicians, however, that so far their investigation had found no indication that the Cologne attacks were co-ordinated, or linked to others, the DPA news agency reported.

Cologne police say 516 criminal complaints have now been filed with them over the New Year’s attacks.

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