World Economy

Anti-Austerity Protest Turns Violent

Anti-Austerity Protest Turns ViolentAnti-Austerity Protest Turns Violent

Demonstrators clashed with German police in Frankfurt Wednesday, with cars set ablaze and stones thrown ahead of a huge protest rally against the opening of the European Central Bank's new headquarters.

Five people were arrested and around 500 demonstrators were encircled by police just hours before the official inauguration of the 185-meter (605-foot) high, 1.3-billion-euro ($1.4-billion) building.

Eight officers were injured in stone-throwing and a further 80 were sprayed with an irritant gas by demonstrators, a police spokeswoman told AFP.

Damage was also reported to businesses and homes in the immediate vicinity of the new building, which was later opened at 1000 GMT in the presence of ECB president Mario Draghi and around 100 invited guests.

The ECB has been involved in implementing budget cuts in Europe's financially troubled countries, such as Spain and Greece.

Four other cars had been set on fire during the night. “We are expecting more violence during the course of the day,” the police spokeswoman said.

An AFP journalist described scenes of smashed windows and burning tires and litter bins.

Convoys of police vans sped through the streets of the German financial capital with sirens blaring as helicopters hovered overhead.

  Provocative Police Measures

Frankfurt police posted pictures to its Twitter account of an armored vehicle and a water cannon being used in the streets. Barriers and barbed wire cordoned off the new ECB headquarters. Later the police said some 350 people have been detained.

In a bid to control the violence, authorities have mobilized one of the biggest ever police deployments in the city.

Some protesters spilled over into the city center and police said they were engaging with several smaller groups of demonstrators along the city’s river Main and one of its shopping districts.

“This is not what we, at Blockupy, had planned. But clearly, the civil war scenario mounted by the police has been seen by some as a provocation,” a spokesman for the protesters, Hendrik Wester, told DPA news agency.

In downtown Frankfurt, where the ECB’s old Eurotower headquarters are situated, the situation remained relatively calm, an AFP journalist said.

The Blockupy alliance said activists, who tried to blockade the bank’s new $1 billion headquarters, were targeting the ECB because of its role in supervising efforts to restrain spending and reduce debt in financially troubled countries such as Greece, the AP reported. Some of the demonstrators blocked bridges and streets.

“The main reason for the protest is that the ECB is in the troika and the troika is responsible for the austerity policies that have pushed so many into poverty,” said Ulrich Wilken, one of the rally’s organizers.

“The ECB stands for impoverishment policy in Europe,” Blockupy said on its Facebook page. “There is nothing to celebrate.”

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said “everyone has the right to criticize institutions like the ECB. But pure rioting goes beyond all limits in the battle for political opinion,” the AP reported.

The inauguration went ahead as planned. “This building is a symbol of the best of what Europe can achieve together,” ECB President Mario Draghi said. “Many people have worked tirelessly to make this building a reality.”

The protesters were joined by representatives from left-wing parties including Greece’s Syriza, Spain’s Podemos and Germany’s Die Linke, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Greece is currently in talks with its European creditors over a list of reforms to enable it to receive its next round of rescue loans.