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Germany

Protests Turn Ugly as Eggs and Insults Fly

The wave of protests against the German government's proposed welfare and job market reforms took a nasty turn on Tuesday as Chancellor Gerhard Schröder ran the gauntlet of public unrest in the east of the country.

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The chancellor strikes back: Schröder faced violent protests

The growing outrage at the German government's planned welfare and labor reforms manifested itself even more violently on Tuesday when Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the main target of the protests, faced his detractors in two appearances in the eastern heartland of the recent unrest.

Schröder looked exasperated as he first faced down a "shock and awe" egg-throwing campaign by protesters at an open air event in the East German city of Wittenberg and then was harangued with furious whistles and cries of "liar" as he made a speech in Leipzig. Only a day before, the latest in a month long campaign of "Monday Demonstrations," as many as 70,000 people once again took to the streets to show exactly what they thought of the government's plans.

The citizens of the east, the region that stands to be affected most by the reforms to cut unemployment benefit among other things, made up most of those who marched. On Tuesday, with the chancellor within striking distance, the protests took a more malevolent turn.

Whistles and abuse greet Schröder

During the chancellor's official speech to mark the prelude of the Social Democrat's state election campaign in Saxony, Schröder was drowned out by whistles, songs and shouts of defamatory abuse as he defended the Hartz IV job market reforms. The chancellor reacted angrily to cries of "betrayer of the working class," responding by labeling those attempting to shout him down as undemocratic and accusing them of wanting the "destruction of the political culture."

In a television interview that evening with regional broadcaster MDR, Schröder said that he could handle protests, even if they were violent, but added that he would not accept the incitement of hatred and the spread of disinformation by radical groups and opposition parties. "On one side, there is the legitimate fear of what is to come," Schröder said. "But on the other, there is the fear produced by right-wing radical groups and the (former communist party) PDS."

Eggs fly at Wittenburg

It had been a long and stressful day for the chancellor. While visiting a newly renovated train station in Wittenberg, Schröder narrowly avoided what initial reports described as "a hail of eggs" thrown by protestors livid over the planned labor-market reforms. What was later reported as "one or two" eggs missed the chancellor but hit journalists traveling with him. A man also tried to storm the platform from which Schröder opened the new €76 million ($91.8 million) station and launched a new Intercity Express train named after the city.

"We will continue this process in spite of any protests," Schroeder said shortly after the attack. He said any reasonable person would support his reforms, which he said are necessary measures.

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