Police in the western German city of Cologne responded on Monday to outrage over a string of sexual crimes over New Year's Eve. According to police, the series of assaults in one of the city's busiest thoroughfares represented a "completely new dimension of crime."
Some 90 criminal complaints, including one allegation of rape, have been brought to the Cologne police department after women said they were molested by a crowd of men who had gathered in the city's famous square between its central train station and towering Gothic cathedral. Authorities expect more victims to come forward in the next few days.
City police chief Wolfgang Albers said the crowd was composed of up to 1,000 heavily intoxicated men who gave the appearance of being "Arab or North African" in background.
The police chief told German news agency dpa that the incidents represented "an intolerable situation" for Cologne. His department has already assembled a task force to deal with the matter.
Mayor calls crisis summit
Mayor Henriette Reker, who made international headlines in October when she was stabbed on the campaign trail, has called a crisis meeting, which will include local and federal police, for Tuesday to address the crimes.
Reker told the local press she found the men's actions "monstrous."
"We cannot tolerate this development of lawlessness," Reker told the "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" newspaper.
Speaking with local newspaper "Express," Ralf Jäger, the state interior minister for North Rhine-Westphalia, promised swift action.
"We will not accept that groups of North African men gather expressly for the purpose of debasing women by sexually assaulting them," the paper quoted Jäger as saying.
'Politically uncomfortable' consequences
The leader of the North Rhine-Westphalia branch of Germany's main police union, Arnold Plickert, called the crimes "a massive attack on basic rights" and said justice must be seen through even if it has "politically uncomfortable" consequences.
Plickert warned, however, against exploiting the incident to stir up anti-refugee sentiment.
"Any refugees who have a problem integrating into our open society and respecting the rights of other people" must be dealt with using the "full force of the law," he said, though adding that the public should not forget that "the great majority of the people who have come to us have done so because their lives are no longer safe in their homelands."
es/cmk (dpa, AFP)