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Anti-migrant protests turn violent in Germany

January 9, 2016 at 5:27 PM EDT
Germany has accepted more than a million asylum seekers in the past year, and on Saturday, anti-immigrant sentiment was on display in response to New Year's Eve assaults on women, allegedly by migrants. NewsHour Special Correspondent Malcolm Brabant joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Cologne, Germany, to discuss the protests and investigation.

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For more on the migrant protests and investigation in Germany, NEWSHOUR special correspondent Malcolm Brabant joins me now via Skype from Cologne.

So, tell me, you were at the protest today, what did you see?

MALCOLM BRABANT, PBS NEWSHOUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a pretty ugly side of Germany it has to be said. There were lots of very angry right wingers belonging to this organization called PEGIDA, which is a Pan-European organization that wants to stop what they see as Islamization of Europe.

And these sexual attacks on women in Cologne and other German cities really have acted as catalyst and to generate some support for, for PEGIDA, because their influence was on the wane but this really has given them a little bit more energy for their campaign. There were right wing leaders from Britain who came over to address people.

And so, the whole demonstration was in a pretty sort of raucous mood and people were with drinking heavily on the way through. Police allowed them to march. They didn’t get to their destination because there was a very aggressive atmosphere, bottles and — started being throwing towards the police lines. The police told them to disperse. The PEGIDA people didn’t do that. So, a water cannon was brought out and they forced them to retreat back to the station.

But the atmosphere in cologne really has been, has become very unpleasant. These people were demanding Angela Merkel should go and calling her a traitor for what she had done to both Germany and Europe in inviting so many refugees into the continent.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about the average citizens you have spoken to over the past few days?

MALCOLM BRABANT: Well, I think people are extremely shocked by what happened, not just in Cologne but other German cities. It is real scale of the violence against women, and I have to say that over the past day, the German police are saying that the number of complaints that have been made by women have approached nearly 300, nearly 400, and many of those are of a sexual nature.

This is really surprised people, and some people think that, you know, they have been misled about the nature of the people who they have been accepting in and there are others who say that the people who committed these crimes are just a small minority of ordinary decent people who want to have a better life.

But what is being discussed here is basically that Cologne may possibly be a turning point for the whole sort of German attitude towards the migration trail, and indeed Angela Merkel has had to respond to that today by being, at a political rally saying that she is going to bring in new laws which will make deportations easier for those people who break German laws.

At the moment, people have to serve at least three years in prison before they can be deported, but there is a need now of Germans to accelerate that process.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And — right, none of this happened in a political vacuum.

MALCOLM BRABANT: No. And people are really sort of interested to know whether or not Angela Merkel, what her political future is like, because she has really put herself out on the extreme of European (INAUDIBLE) by opening up Germany to virtually anybody now and she is having to reverse that process.

Now, the numbers in Germany are quite startling. Over the past year, the German say they have taken in more than a million migrants and somehow those figures don’t really quite jive, because that’s about the same amount of people that UNCHR says are coming in. So, there perhaps there has been some double registration in Germany which boosted those numbers, but nevertheless, those numbers are pretty high.

And there is a demographic problem, because many of the people who are coming into Europe from Turkey, through Greece and are young men, and they, as I found out yesterday when I talked to some Moroccan people, they have got to learn there is a completely different way in Europe about the way in which you treat women. And people are very concerned that there is a serious cultural clash that is happening between people of European sort of background and those newcomers, and so, Cologne could very well indeed be a turning point.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. NEWSHOUR special correspondent Malcolm Brabant joining us via Skype — thanks so much.

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