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Violence escalates over G20 summit in Hamburg

July 8, 2017

Throughout the night into Saturday, police cracked down on protests in Hamburg, which is hosting a two-day G20 summit. With the authorities restoring control over the city, world leaders are set to meet anew.

G20-Gipfel - nach den Ausschreitungen Hamburg
Image: picture alliance/dpa/D.Bockwoldt

Protests in Hamburg saw violent clashes between demonstrators and police in many parts of the city continuing into a night of violence. The damage went far beyond the area around the Messehallen, where the heads of state are meeting, as anti-globalization activists set dozens of cars ablaze in various parts of town.

As the G20 world leaders were gathering for the meeting, protesters attempted to block roads and slow down their convoys. The disturbances started in the morning hours, and by 9:00 a.m. police water cannon were being used to remove the last protesters still standing in the way of approaching convoys. The police would later have to resort to using water cannon throughout the day. 

Read more: G20 underway in Hamburg amid violent protests

In the afternoon, an unannounced demonstration drew thousands to the riverfront once again - the scene of the previous night's clashes between protesters and the police. By Saturday morning, 213 police officers were reported injured. Some were reportedly hit with objects launched from catapults. Hamburg police tweeted on some of the injuries sustained. Many protesters were also injured, and around 100 have been taken into custody. Dozens of others have been temporarily detained.

By Saturday morning, police managed to restore relative calm by storming protesters' holdouts in the streets of the Schanzenviertel area, which was the key flashpoint of the overnight violence. The officers also used armored vehicles to break through the street barricades.

Damage in Hamburg

Violent protesters torched cars, smashed store windows and broke up paving slabs to use them against the police. A mob of around 500 people also looted and burned a nearby supermarket. A police helicopter was targeted with a signal flare, but the device narrowly missed the aircraft. Previously, pilots of another helicopter sustained eye injuries from lasers directed at them.

On Friday, police spokesman Timo Zill told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper that he was shocked by the riots.

"We have never experienced this level of hate and violence," he said.

Many protesters used iron rods and Molotov cocktails to target police units.

Violence overshadows peaceful G20 protests

'The police are provoking people'

A demonstrator named Cedric told DW reporters that police were deliberately fueling anger among protesters: "The police are provoking people by running into the protests, crowding people together so that they start to panic. They know people will get injured."

On Friday evening, a spokeswoman for one of the groups behind the unrest said that the protests were a success.

"We've done what we said we would: Thousands of people have penetrated the so-called blue zone," said Jana Schneider of Block-G20. "We were where we weren't supposed to be."

The blue zone is an off-limits area surrounding the venues that host the conference.

The city has boosted its police presence significantly with reinforcements from around the country. About 20,000 officers were on hand to patrol the city, and a further 900 were called in as reinforcements.

Following meetings throughout the day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked police for their work: "I have every understanding for peaceful demonstrations," she said. "But violent demonstrations endanger human lives. They endanger the people themselves, they put police officers and security forces in danger, put residents in danger, and so that is unacceptable."

Protesters make their voices heard

The radical Black Bloc movement, which wants to overthrow capitalism, did have some minor success in disrupting some of the world leaders' original plans.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble had to cancel an appearance in downtown Hamburg in the morning due to security concerns. Police were unable to allow US first lady Melania Trump's motorcade to leave her hotel for a tour of the city's historic harbor, her spokeswoman said. The first lady later tweeted that she hoped everyone was safe.

A minority problem

As the G20 summit participants left the convention center and low-flying helicopters hovered overhead in the early evening, the tension in the city grew. World leaders went to a concert and dinner at the city's new concert hall, the Elbphilharmonie. Across the Elbe River, protesters played loud rock music and lit firecrackers.

Marine police units managed to intercept 22 divers from Greenpeace, who they said had been trying to reach the concert hall.  

A police spokesman said only small numbers of far-left or anarchist protesters were involved in the disturbances, while the majority of an estimated 100,000 demonstrators in the city remained peaceful. The authorities estimate that some 1,500 rioters took part in the unrest.

G20 participants praised the work of the police, but some said they had never seen protesters so close to such a summit before. The summit is due to conclude on Saturday, with leaders due to discuss issues including terrorism, climate change and global trade.

dj,ss/rg (with additional reporting from Jenny Witt)