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Mayor Scholz tells Hamburg he's sorry

July 12, 2017

Mayor Olaf Scholz has apologized to Hamburg for a difficult weekend. He previously said Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats should think again if they expect him to quit after G20 clashes between police and protesters.

Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Charisius

In an attempt to clarify the massive misstep that surrounded the G20 protests, Hamburg's mayor, Olaf Scholz, told the city-state's parliament on Wednesday that he was sorry for the weekend's events. Thousands of police officers deployed water cannons and tear gas in efforts to prevent property damage by demonstrators, some of whom vandalized businesses or cars.

"Not everything happened as we had hoped," Scholz, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD), told the city council. "I am happy that nobody was killed."

Read more: Merkel-Gabriel spat: Could G20 chaos tear coalition apart?

Scholz admitted that, as mayor, he was responsible for the safety and well-being of Hamburg's citizens. In retrospect, the city's security protocols ahead of the G20 summit were indeed lacking, he said.

@dwnews - Hamburg residents clean streets after violent G20 protests

He said that he had also underestimated the disruptions caused to roads and traffic, adding that he could "perfectly understand the anger felt by those who found themselves stranded in the city for hours on end."

Scholz has already rejected calls to resign from Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and the far-right Alternative for Germany party. "No, I won't do that," he had told German political talk show host Anne Will in a live broadcast on Sunday night.

Recriminations abound

Over the weekend, police reported 476 officers injured, while more than 200 protesters sought treatment in local hospitals and scores more received on-the-spot care from volunteer medics after inhaling tear gas and pepper spray or being hit with truncheons. Though residents and city workers managed to clean up the streets by Sunday afternoon, Germans watched in shock as media broadcast images of property damage and ransacked shops.

Police at G20 in Hamburg
Scholz has praised the police response to the G20 protestsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Scholz

The mayor tried to put on a brave face on Wednesday, saying that the city must overcome its anger and sense of disbelief. One of the first priorities, Schulz said, was to punish the perpetrators, as well as those who helped to organize and encourage the destruction.

Read more: After G20: A look at left-wing radicalism in Europe

Officials, including many policing figures, have said protesters who engaged in acts of vandalism represented a small minority - mere hundreds of the tens of thousands of people who demonstrated against the gathering of the leaders of the world's 20 richest countries - and that they believe most of those came from abroad. However, following the protests, officials in Hamburg have floated the idea of forcibly evicting the Rote Flora - a cultural center occupied and used by leftist groups in the city since 1989 - which had served as a networking space for activists ahead of the demonstrations.

On Wednesday, Scholz said that some of the talk he had heard coming out of the Rote Flora was "shameful, contemptuous and not worthy of being part of a democracy." Similar comments were echoed by the CDU's head in Hamburg, Andre Trepoll, who called for an immediate shuttering down of the center.

Following the protests, Rote Flora returned to its regularly scheduled program, offering a DIY bicycle repair workshop and a support group for people recovering from addiction, among other activities. Representatives say politicians are trying to scapegoat the community space to cover up the failures of police and the city and federal governments. 

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, also a member of the SPD, has stuck up for the mayor and said it was the chancellor's fault that her G20 gathering had proved a "total bust."

"Olaf Scholz is not responsible for the staging of this summit," Gabriel told the Funke newspaper group in an interview printed Wednesday. "Whoever wants his resignation ... must also demand the resignation of Angela Merkel. She carries the political responsibility for the staging and direction of the G20 summit in Hamburg."

mkg, dm/msh (dpa, AFP, Reuters)