Germany asks for EU help following Hamburg G20 protests

Germany has asked EU members to help trace demonstrators who vandalized property or attacked police at the Hamburg G20 summit. More than 50 suspects from seven countries have been detained.

In a letter sent Monday, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas asked his EU counterparts to accelerate Germany's requests for assistance in connection with G20 protests, which saw shops looted, street battles between police and demonstrators, and cars and barricades set on fire in central Hamburg. Maas also urged his fellow justice ministers to implement EU arrest warrants issued by German.

"Lots of photos and video footage is now being analyzed in order to name those perpetrators," Maas wrote. "For that, we're reliant on the support of our European partners."

The same day, Maas took to Twitter to further his call for better information-sharing across Europe and reiterated that no form of extremism would be tolerated.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, of Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats (CDU), compared protesters to "despicable violent extremists - just like neo-Nazis and Islamist terrorists." De Maiziere said hundreds of people had traveled to Hamburg from abroad for the protests, and that the police force he oversees had turned away hundreds more at Germany's borders. He said he expected judicial authorities to pass tough sentences on the demonstrators and added that "breaching the peace" could result in prison sentences lasting several years.

Fifty-one people face charges for breaching the peace, causing grievous bodily harm, damaging property and resisting the more than 20,000 police officers who had been on hand. As well as Germans, those held include citizens of France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Russia, Switzerland and Austria.

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Nearly 500 police were injured, a few of them seriously. The Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper reported that more than 200 protesters sought treatment in local hospitals and noted that scores more received on-the-spot care from volunteer medics. 

Foreign or domestic?

German leaders say protesters who committed vandalism or resisted police amounted to hundreds of the tens of thousands of people who were present to demonstrate against the G20 talks. The leaders also emphasized their belief that the worst offenders came from abroad. Nonetheless, officials at several levels of government have called for the eviction of cultural centers for domestic dissidents.

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"Schanzenviertel" covered in debris

This part of town was the scene of escalating violence. That did not come as a surprise: The quarter is traditionally the hub of Hamburg's leftist activists. It has been subject to gentrification, turning into a "hip" place to live and magnet for tourists.

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A night of devastation

Police regained control over the streets of Hamburg in the early hours of the morning.

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Looting and rioting

Several shops were looted and damaged during the first day of protests.

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Smoke bombs

Black block protesters were throwing flares at police from behind street baracades. It took several hours for police to really push back in the early hours of Saturday morning.

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Fires were lit and shops looted

Fires were set in Hamburg streets and some cars were burned out.

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Burning barricades

Protesters lit barricades on Friday evening. Throughout the city cars had been set on fire.

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Violence took over as night fell

Cars were burned and barricades set alight as a violent mob stepped up its actions, sidelining the majority of mainly peaceful protesters.

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Black Bloc

Police blamed anarchists with the so-called Black Bloc movement for much of the violence. Black Bloc protesters wear all black and cover their faces to avoid being identified.

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Battle of G20 Hamburg

Riot police disperse crowds with water cannon vehicles on Friday.

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Armored vehicles on the streets

Police use water against a woman after she climbed on top of an armoured carrier on Friday.

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Chasing protesters

Police chased protesters up a hill to gain control of the streets.

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War zone

A picture published on social media shows smoke rising from the streets during protests on Friday.

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Children among those affected

Violent protests turned several neighborhoods where children usually play into scenes from a warzone.

CDU officials have called for raids on Hamburg's Rote Flora (Red Flora), a converted theater that served as a meeting point for some protesters and during less exceptional weeks hosts bicycle repair clinics and support groups for people recovering from addiction.

"In light of the excessive violence and the dimension of unrestrained and unleashed aggression against police officers, as well as the vandalism on the part of extreme-left demonstrators and autonomists, I consider the forcible eviction of the Rote Flora to be imperiously imperative," said Stephan Mayer, the domestic policy speaker for the CDU in the Bundestag.

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A cultural and political hub

Rote Flora, an old theater in Hamburg's Sternschanze quarter, has for years served as a meeting point for the city's left-wing movement. Built in 1888, it hosted concerts and operettas until the Second World War. It emerged undamaged after the war and reopened in 1953 as a cinema before later being turned into a department store.

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1989: Rote Flora becomes left-wing

In 1987, the department store closed down. Subsequent plans to turn the building into a musical theater again were met by protests from residents and local shopkeepers. Soon after, a number of militant groups joined the demonstrations, forcing plans to be completely abandoned. Two years later Rote Flora was declared a squat, while also functioning as a center for political and cultural events.

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Violence hits the 2007 G8 summit

During the 2007 G8 summit in Hamburg, Rote Flora served as a convergence center for a number of anti-capitalist protest movements. That prompted large clashes between police and protestors. Authorities also stormed the old theater, detaining a number of protest organizers.

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City officials forced to row back on demolition plans

A decision by the city of Hamburg in December 2013 to redevelop the Rote Flora site saw it again become the focus of large and oftentimes violent demonstrations. Just a month later, the borough of Altona went back on its plans, announcing that the building would not be demolished and would remain a cultural center.

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G20 Hamburg: Rota Flora once again becomes a hotbed for protests

Many of the anti-capitalist protest movements seen during this year's G20 summit in Hamburg were organized at Rote Flora, including the "Welcome to Hell" march. However, few would have foreseen just how much the demonstrations would be overshadowed by violence and destruction.

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Violence erupts outside Rote Flora

As the violence escalated around Hamburg on Thursday and Friday night, Rote Flora was quick to distance itself from the so-called "Black Bloc" rioters. Andreas Blechschmidt, a spokesman for Rote Flora, said a "form of militancy had poured out on to the streets which was intoxicated with itself ... and we find that politically ... wrong."

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Violence against police and property prompts tough response

Hamburg police responded to the violence with water canons and tear gas, a response some said only further provoked the rioters. "We saw a Hamburg police force that time and time again opt to use violence," Rote Flora spokesman Andreas Blechschmidt said. "I think that played a role last night [Friday], and made people say to themselves, 'Right, that deserves pay back.'"

Officials have found it less imperative to respond to the German Federation of Journalists (DJV), which demanded clarification as to why several reporters were stripped of accreditation, insulted, threatened, and subjected to tear gas, pepper spray, billy clubs and other physical violence by officers. In a letter to the Federal Criminal Police, the DJV called the attacks on journalists isolated cases - "but," chairman Frank Überall has since said, "there were an awful lot of isolated cases."

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mkg/rt (Reuters, AFP, dpa, epd, AP)