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Anti-migrant incidents in Saxony condemned

February 21, 2016

Anti-migrant violence in Germany's eastern state of Saxony has been described as 'disgusting' and verging on a pogrom by senior German politicians. Police suspect arson in the latest attack on a planned hostel.

Bautzen Brandanschlag auf geplantes Flüchtlingsheim
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Essler

German Federal Justice Minister Heiko Maas on Sunday condemned two incidents in Saxony involving anti-migrant mobs as "disgusting and revolting behavior" by those who "shamelessly applaud when houses burn and scare refugees to death."

"Verbal radicalism is a prelude to physical violence," Maas added, noting that Saxony had featured the most frequently as the scene of criminal acts against foreigners since last year when Germany let in nearly 1.1 million asylum seekers.

Deutschland Bundesjustizminister Heiko Maas in Berlin
'Pathetic lawbreakers,' says MaasImage: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Zinken

"Racists are pathetic lawbreakers, a disgrace for our country. Shame on you," wrote deputy foreign minister Michael Roth on Twitter.

Two incidents

On Thursday evening, police dragged several terrified refugees out of a bus after a group of demonstrators tried to block their arrival in Clausnitz, a town in Saxony's Erz Mountains.

On Saturday night, drunken onlookers had shown "unabashed delight" and hindered firefighters, according to police, as a blaze consumed the attic of a former hotel intended to be adapted as a refugee hostel in Bautzen. Police later said accelerant was found. No one was physically hurt.

The incidents precede regional elections on March 13 in three German states, including Saxony's neighbor, Saxony-Anhalt.

Actions of 'criminals'

Saxony's premier Slanislav Tillich on Sunday described the perpetrators in Clausnitz and Bautzen as "criminals" and said their actions were both "appalling and shocking"

Stanislaw Tillich CDU Ministerpräsident Sachsen
Shocked by incidents, says Saxony's TillichImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Pilick

Tillich of Saxony's Sorbian minority has his electorate in Bautzen, a town in northeastern Saxony, and currently chairs the Bundesrat or Federal Council representing Germany's 16 regional states.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who also has his federal electorate in Saxony, told the German news agency DPA that the threshold of decency and law had "clearly" been crossed in both incidents.

'Mob applauds' while hostel burns

"I am disgusted that in Germany it has again come to scenes where a mob applauds while a refugee hostel burns," said Aydan Özoguz, the federal government's integration commissioner.

Özoguz also condemned police handling of Thursday's refugee arrival in Clausnitz, saying Saxony's police force had repeatedly failed to show itself to be a convincing upholder of civil order.

Aydan Özoguz Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Migration
Mobs applauding 'again' in Germany, says ÖzoguzImage: picture alliance/dpa/M. Becker

It was the police's job to protect refugees from "this disgusting mob," said Thomas Oppermann, who, like Özuguz, is a Social Democrat (SPD) member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government. He heads the SPD's parliamentary grouping.

Police unions defend colleagues' actions

Germany's two main police trade unions defended police actions in Clausnitz, saying officers had been obliged to act in a tense situation.

Saxony's interior minister Markus Ulbig, like Tillich, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats, said police had intervened appropriately in Clausnitz.

Caren Lay, stellvertretende Vorsitzende der Partei Die Linke
'Pogrom-like atmosphere,' says Left deputy leader LayImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Woitas

'Pogrom-like atmosphere'

Caren Lay, a trained sociologist, a former Saxony parliamentarian and now a deputy leader of Germany's opposition Left party, said a "pogrom-like atmosphere" prevailed against refugees in Saxony.

Armin Laschet, a senior Christian Democrat and Merkel ally in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, said the incidents in Bautzen and Clausnitz exhibited the failure of "some Germans" to remain integrated in Germany's "leading culture" based on humanity, respect and decency.

Saxony 'failed' state?

SPD federal interior affairs spokesman Burkhard Lischka told "die Welt" newspaper that Saxony had to watch out that its outbreaks of far-right extremism did not turn it into a "failed state."

Green's federal parliamentarian Monika Lazar told "die Welt" that Saxony's conservative-led government had since the 1990s dramatically underestimated the situation.

That was the reason why the "seeds" of the anti-foreigner movement Pegida had sprouted since 2014 in Dresden, Lazar said.

Some 70 people, including families with children, demonstrated in Bautzen on Sunday, displaying slogans such as "intellectual arsonists are also criminals." The rally was organized by a civic group calling itself "Bautzen stays colorful."

ipj/jm (AP, dpa, AFP)