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Germany's carnival begins amid terror concerns

February 4, 2016

Germany's carnival celebrations kicked off despite a fresh series of terror-related arrests across the country. The city of Cologne also increased police numbers, aiming to stop a repeat of violence from New Year's Eve.

Carnival in Cologne
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Hitij

German federal police sought to downplay fears despite Thursday's arrests, saying the likelihood of an attack was not any higher during carnival than before.

More than 3,200 police officers were sent out to patrol the streets in Cologne - host to the country's biggest carnival festivities - amid heightened terror warnings issued since the November 13 attacks in Paris. Cologne expects more than 1.5 million people to attend various events over the six-day carnival week, which culminates in a parade of floats on what is known as Rose Monday and ends on Ash Wednesday two days later.

But near-freezing temperatures and the bitter aftertaste of the Cologne assaults from New Year's Eve, during which scores of women reported sexual attacks, resulted in a drop in the number of participants for what carnival fans refer to as the fifth season of the year.

'Quiet and peaceful' festivities

Cologne's deputy mayor Guido Kahlen said that the first day of carnival events had gone by in a "quiet and peaceful" manner. Cologne mayor Henriette Reker had pledged to prevent any sort of repeat of the New Year's attacks.

The New Year's assaults sparked nationwide uproar, resulting in the removal of Cologne's police chief and leading to a heated debate about the integration of Germany's influx of asylum seekers. Most of the attackers accused of 446 allegations of sexual assault and three instances of rape in Cologne had been described as being of Arab or North African origin.

Police in Cologne
There was a heightened police presence in Cologne and other Rhineland citiesImage: picture alliance/dpa/O. Berg

Ahead of carnival, organizers printed leaflets in Arabic and several other languages explaining the party to newcomers, emphasizing that there would be zero tolerance from police on sexual assaults during the week-long events, while inviting newcomers to the region to join in on the merriment.

Participating 'a form of protest'

Police in Cologne have attempted to restore public confidence after a failure to stop the sexual assaults and theft that took place during New Year festivities. Cologne authorities have put in place additional video surveillance and street lighting to deter attackers during carnival and to make it easier to catch perpetrators.

Ramona, a young woman dressed up in a superheroine outfit, said she came out on Thursday so that "those who attacked women don't feel that they won."

Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker
Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker pledged the New Year's violence would not be repeatedImage: Reuters/W. Rattay

"It's a form of protest to be here," she said.

Julia Moser, who dressed up as a clown for the event, said she and her friends weren't deterred by what had happened at the turn of the year.

"There is a lot of security and everyone is looking out for each other," she said

ss/gsw (AFP, AP, dpa, epd)