Merkel Under Fire

Merkel Under FireMerkel Under Fire

German Chancellor Angela Merkel came under mounting pressure Wednesday for her welcoming stance toward migrants, which opponents have linked to a shocking rash of apparently coordinated sex attacks in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.

Police in the western city told AFP they have received more than 100 complaints by women reporting assaults ranging from groping to at least one reported rape, allegedly committed in a large crowd of revelers during year-end festivities outside the city’s main train station and its famed Gothic cathedral. Authorities have said there is no concrete indication that the perpetrators were asylum seekers who arrived in last year’s record influx, whose total was confirmed by the interior ministry Wednesday.

However, critics of Merkel’s liberal refugee policy charged that the Cologne assaults proved she was playing with fire without clear plans how to integrate the mainly Muslim newcomers.

The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany Party, which hopes to gain seats in three regional elections in March, seized on the attacks as “a result of unchecked immigration”.

“Here we see the appalling consequences of catastrophic asylum and migration policies on Germany’s everyday reality,” party leader Frauke Petry said.

Late Tuesday 200-300 people, according to police estimates, gathered in front of Cologne cathedral calling for more respect for women. One female demonstrator held a sign reading: “Mrs. Merkel, what are you doing? This is scary”. Merkel on Tuesday urged a thorough investigation of the “repugnant” attacks and called Cologne’s mayor, Henriette Reker, to express her “outrage” over the violence, which she said required “a tough response from the state”.

“Everything must be done to find as many of the perpetrators as quickly as possible and bring them to justice, regardless of their origin or background,” she said.

Witnesses in Cologne said groups of 20-30 young men had surrounded victims, assaulted them and in several cases robbed them.