Police in Cologne began dispersing a far-right protest march, after bottles and firecrackers were hurled at officials, a spokeswoman said.
Police in Cologne began dispersing a far-right protest march, after bottles and firecrackers were hurled at officials, a spokeswoman said. EPA - OLIVER BERG EPA - ROLAND WEIHRAUCH

Merkel pledges crackdown on criminal asylum seekers

WOMEN'S rights activists, far-right demonstrators and leftwing counter-protesters took to the streets of Cologne on Saturday to voice their opinions in the debate that has followed a string of New Year's Eve sexual assaults and robberies blamed largely on foreigners.

Amid the heightened public pressure, Chancellor Angela Merkel's party proposed stricter laws regulating asylum-seekers in the country " some 1.1 million of whom arrived last year.

Police said that around 1,700 protesters from the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement were kept apart from 1,300 counter-demonstrators in simultaneous protests outside the city's main train station.

PEGIDA members held banners with slogans like "RAPEfugees not welcome" and "Integrate barbarity?" while the counter-protesters pushed the message "refugees welcome."

Specifics of the New Year's Eve assaults and who were behind them are still being investigated. The attackers were among about 1,000 men gathered at Cologne's central train station, some of whom broke off into small groups and surrounded women, groping them and stealing their purses, cell phones and other belongings, according to authorities and witness reports. There are also two allegations of rape.

Read more at the New Zealand Herald



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