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Cologne New Year's Eve assaults 'unforeseeable,' de Maiziere says

The German interior minister has called for answers at an inquiry on the mass sexual assaults in Cologne. Thomas de Maiziere acknowledged more needed to be done to prevent such an incident from happening again.

De Maiziere said on Monday the government needed to do more to ensure such an event couldn't happen again in Germany, while also emphasizing the difficult position authorities found themselves in last New Year's Eve.

The country was rocked at the beginning of the year when reports surfaced that hundreds of sexual assaults had allegedly taken place outside the main train station in the western German city of Cologne. Reports that the attackers were mainly of North African origin led to growing criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policies.

Speaking before an investigative committee in Düsseldorf tasked with looking into the Cologne attacks, the German interior minister said the incident was "unforeseeable."

"There had never been sexual assaults on such a massive scale in Germany before," he told the panel.

Köln Übergriffe in der Silvesternacht (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Boehm)

Reports of mass sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year's Eve put Germany on edge

Still more needs to be done, de Maiziere says

The politician, a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), also clarified his remarks about the Cologne police following the events of that night. On January 5, de Maiziere criticized the police's handling of the attacks, saying they "shouldn't work like this."

On Monday, however, de Maiziere struck a more diplomatic tone, insisting the police "acted under great physical and mental stress and tried their best to prevent mass panic and protect women from further sexual attacks."

Nonetheless, de Maiziere also said "such a situation should not be allowed to happen in our constitutional state."

He also called on the federal government to do more, noting that it was incomprehensible that the Bundesrat - Germany's upper house of parliament - hadn't yet agreed to list Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as "safe countries of origin," which would allow Germany to more easily deport asylum seekers from those countries. The Bundestag had voted to classify those countries as "safe countries of origin" back in May.

The investigative committee in Düsseldorf has so far heard 156 witnesses in 50 days. It's due to submit its final report on April 6, 2017.

blc/kl (dpa, AFP, epd)

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