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First New Year's Eve assault trial begins in Düsseldorf

A man accused of assaulting a woman during mass sexual violence on New Year's Eve in Germany has gone on trial in Düsseldorf. Right-wing politicians have used the assaults to make their case against foreigners.

The first defendant has gone on trial after

mass muggings and assaults

took place

across Germany

on

New Year's Eve.

Toufik M. stands accused of sexual assault, grievous bodily harm and damage to property. The victim said Toufik M. lifted her skirt while 15-20 men surrounded her, with several of them groping her as well.

"The worst was not knowing what was going to happen," the 18-year-old victim testified.

Through the end of March, police received more than 1,100 criminal complaints about the events of New Years Eve, with up to 500 victims alleging sexual crimes of the type described by the young woman. Most of the attacks were reported in the

large western city of Cologne,

about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Düsseldorf. However, the young woman's was one of the more than 100 attacks reported Düsseldorf, as well.

'Something to eat'

The court dismissed an attempt by the defendant's lawyer to have Monday's session postponed because he lacked all the relevant case files. The defendant's girlfriend told the court that he had spent New Year's Eve with her at a club, but she refused to identify any possible witnesses to corroborate that.

Police charged Toufik M. after the victim said she recognized him in a TV documentary on street crime that aired on January 31, a month after the attacks. Germany privacy law only permits the publication of the first name and middle initial of people not yet found guilty of a crime.

Spiegel TV, which made the documentary, reported that Toufik M. had moved to Düsseldorf two years ago, after spending many years in Milan, Italy, and had applied for asylum in Germany. He remained in the shelter even after his application was rejected.

According to Spiegel, police had investigated him 20 times for various crimes, including causing bodily harm and theft, and a court had once sentenced him to seven months' probation. He has previously been prosecuted for theft. Toufik M. told the program that he had stolen items - "sometimes a pair of pants or a cellphone"- but "only to be able to be able to buy something to eat."

Authorities have described the suspects as

Arab and North African men.

Following the attacks, the German government introduced regulations, which went into effect last month, to make it easier to deport foreigners convicted of crimes such as sexual assault or violent theft. Even serial shoplifting has become a deportable offense.

Prosecutors have convicted three people of theft in connection with the attacks, and last month they charged a 26-year-old man with groping a woman, though they have yet to set a trial date for him. Under the German legal system, defendants do not enter a plea.

mkg/kms (AFP, dpa, AP)

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