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Dozens of injuries in clashes at Kurdish festival

Dozens of police officers have been injured in clashes that broke out at a Kurdish cultural festival in Mannheim. Thousands of Kurds had gathered in the southwestern German city for the festival.

Police said they had to use pepper spray to bring the violent crowd of several hundred people under control. They made 31 arrests and confiscated a small number of weapons as well as flags and t-shirts bearing banned symbols.

Most of the 80 officers injured in the clashes were hit by bricks or bottles thrown by the attackers, while 13 police vehicles were damaged.

The number of Kurds who had traveled from all over Europe for the festival was estimated at approximately 40,000.

Police said the violence broke out after a 14-year-old carrying a flag of a banned Kurdish organization attempted to enter the market area where the event was being held. Security personnel provided by the festival's organizers called police for assistance after they failed in their attempt to prevent the youth from bringing the flag into the market area.

A police spokesman said that when officers reached the scene, they were immediately attacked by dozens of visitors to the festival, who appeared to have interpreted their presence as a “provocation.” These, the spokesman said, were cheered on by several thousand others attending the event.

Related events in the days leading up to the festival were also marred by violence. On Friday, police forced an early end to a youth march from the French city of Strasbourg to Mannheim after things threatened to get out of hand. Police said that during the march there had been a number of verbal and physical assaults. Two days earlier, seven people, including five police officers, were injured in clashes between the Kurdish youth and Turks as the march was making its way along the route south of Mannheim.

pfd/tj (dpa, DAPD)