‘Welcome to Hell’: dozens of police hurt in clashes with G20 protesters in Hamburg
Dozens of police were injured in clashes with protesters before a G20 summit in Hamburg on Thursday, tarnishing the start of a meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes will cement her role as a stateswoman as she seeks re-election in September.
Merkel, who is campaigning for a fourth term, can ill afford the images of chaos and disharmony that dominated news coverage of the summit. The summit, which starts in earnest on Friday, is a chance for her to polish her diplomatic credentials but would be disastrous if marred by widespread violence.
She met US President Donald Trump for an hour on Thursday evening, but less than an hour later police clashed with anti-capitalist demonstrators near the summit venue, firing water cannons and pepper spray at hundreds of black-clad protesters after they threw bottles.
Some 12,000 protesters joined the so-called “Welcome to Hell” demonstration. Of those, about 1,000 were covering their faces, which is illegal during protests in Germany, according to police.
Police said a total of 76 officers were injured. One officer was taken to hospital with an eye injury after a firecracker exploded near him, according to a police statement.
Two others were also taken to hospital.
An undisclosed number of demonstrators were injured.
Organisers declared the protest over after vain attempts by police to separate the violent protesters from the peaceful ones. It had been scheduled to finish later Thursday at the Reeperbahn — the epicentre of the city’s red-light district — just 300 meters from the summit venue.
Nevertheless, hours after the original protest ended, several unofficial marches resumed.
A group of 300 demonstrators shouted anti-police slogans. The police statement spoke of an “aggressive” atmosphere and decried “violence.”
Police spokesman Timo Zill was attacked by protesters, but managed to flee unscathed after hiding in an ambulance, officials said.
Two police helicopter pilots sustained eye injuries through laser pointers, a police statement added.
Protesters smashed windows at a department store and a bank branch close to the route of the protest. Yet later, authorities reported that groups of protesters were moving through the city.
“We are appalled,” Hamburg police wrote on Twitter.
Protest organiser Andreas Blechschmidt said between 10 and 20 demonstrators had been detained by late Thursday evening.
Blechschmidt said German authorities and the country’s domestic intelligence service had conducted a “massive campaign” in the run-up to Thursday’s event to deter people from joining.
The protest remained peaceful until about 5pm, with some 1,400 people gathering at Hamburg’s Fischmarkt — a historic fish market near the harbor that dates back to 1703 — to hear a local band and several speakers denounce the leadership of the G-20.
Even after midnight, some 6,000 demonstrators were on the streets, Hamburg police chief Ralf Martin Meyer said.
The main G20 protest is scheduled for early Saturday and is expected to bring together 100,000 protesters from a web of civil society, environmentalist and political groups.
German leaders, including Chancellor Merkel, have supported the right to peaceful protest surrounding the summit. The country’s highest court also backed demonstrators in their call for a protest camp on the sidelines of the G20.
But Hamburg police have taken a stricter line, for example saying protesters are not allowed to overnight in the camp or set up cooking and toilet facilities there.
Hamburg’s chief of police, Ralf Martin Meyer, said Thursday that he suspected G20 protesters were behind an overnight arson incident at a local Porsche dealership in the city.
Eight cars were nearly destroyed by the fire in the suburb of Eidelstedt.
Also on Thursday, two Italian nationals known to authorities for carrying out violent crimes have been stopped from entering Germany at Hamburg airport and are in the process of being deported, according to a police spokesman.
Another bus full of people hoping to head to the protests was turned back at the Dutch border, police said.
Earlier in the day, a chartered train carrying hundreds of protesters arrived at Hamburg’s central train station after making its way through Germany from the Swiss city of Basel the night before.
Passengers were subjected to extensive checks on the train, causing it to depart four hours later than initially planned.
A total of 210 people were checked in Hamburg, according to the German police, who seized gas masks, face masks and protective goggles.
Another 33 people were denied entry into Germany, one of whom had a warrant for his arrest and was being sought by Swiss police.
Reuters and Tribune News Service