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Locals, refugees clash in eastern German town

September 15, 2016

A small town in the state of Saxony has reported violence between residents and migrants. The town has repeatedly been the scene of such confrontations in recent months.

Deutschland Bautzen Konflikt Flüchtlinge vs Rechte
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Xcitepress

According to police reports, 20 refugees and some 80 right-wing extremists got involved in verbal and physical attacks overnight on Wednesday. The two parties reportedly hurled bottles at each other.

About 100 police officers tried to break up the confrontation but also found themselves on the receiving end of the violence.

Police stopped the violence by forming a chain around the two groups. The officers were forced to use pepper spray and clubs after the asylum seekers threw bottles, wooden slats and other objects at them.

When the groups left the area, extremists followed the refugees to their housing complex. Police were forced to guard the home, instructing the 32 migrant residents not to leave. Three further asylum housing complexes also required police supervision.

An 18-year-old migrant reportedly suffered stab wounds in the clashes. The ambulance taking him to hospital was subsequently attacked by extremists, who threw stones at it. A second ambulance had to be called to take the man to hospital.

Migrants sparked the clashes, say police

Police have reportedly launched an investigation focused on migrants causing bodily harm. At a press conference on Thursday, Bautzen police chief Uwe Kilz said that migrants threw glass bottles and other objects at the officers.

Video material is also being analyzed, in which a number of people already known to the police have been identified.

"The altercation was started by the asylum-seekers," a police statement read, while Kilz said that the violence "came from nowhere."

The deputy police chief for the nearby town of Görlitz, Klaus Mehlberg, described the situation as, "not ideal." Clashes between the groups had already been reported at a rally on Friday, while a 32-year-old local had sustained injuries after being hit by a bottle on Tuesday evening.

Mehlberg said that his forces would also be on patrol in Bautzen over the coming days and that he expected it would help get the problem under control.

"A playground for violence"

The mayor of Bautzen, Alexander Ahrens, denounced the clashes in his town.

"I strongly denounce this violence and would like to stress that I do so regardless of who may have started it," Ahrens said.

Deutschland Bautzen Polizei bei Konflikt Flüchtlinge vs Rechte
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Xcitepress

On Thursday, Ahrens told the dpa news agency that the level of violence in the town had reached a new level. "Bautzen cannot become a playground for violent right-wing radicals," he said.

Both Saxony's Interior Minister Markus Ulbig and Bautzen's Christian Democratic representative Marko Schiemann called for greater police presence in the town.

Left-wing groups in Saxony have criticized current level of police protection, describing the situation as having a "pogrom-like atmosphere".

"The police have to be able to protect migrants and opponents against these neo-Nazis, who are clearly in the majority," said the parliamentary representative from Bautzen, Caren Lay.

Since last week, Bautzen has imposed bans on the sale of alcohol on the Kornmarkt square, the focal point of recent violence. It is also currently seeking to impose a blanket ban on the sale of alcohol, and a 7 p.m. curfew for 30 young migrants living in the town.

Troubled region

Located close to the Czech border, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) east of the city of Dresden, Bautzen has seen repeated clashes between asylum-seekers and the radical right, underscoring the growing unrest over Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy.

An arson attack at a local refugee home at the beginning of the year highlighted how the region struggles in coping with the influx of migrants in Germany. Some of the bystanders at the refugee home fire had tried to stop emergency services from accessing the scene.

The following month, members of the public verbally abused German President Joachim Gauck during a visit to the town where he spoke with locals about the migrant crisis.

ss,dm/sms (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP, MDR)