Cologne assaults lead German cities to reassess security for carnival

Sexual assault of the kind that took place on a mass scale in Cologne on New Year's Eve is by no means the exception. Major celebrations where alcohol is consumed often result in "crimes of indecency," a police spokesman in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia told dpa.

The perpetrators come from all social classes and all ethnic groups, he said.

Security concepts in the German towns and cities where carnival is celebrated - and Cologne is the best known among them - are now under review, with the aim of preventing sexual harassment.

Arnold Plickert, chairman of the GdP police union in the western German state, is convinced that police have a workable security concept for the carnival, which kicks off on the streets of the city in early February.

The kind of violence that took place on New Year's Eve would not be repeated, Plickert assured the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung daily, as there would be more officers on duty and they would also "proactively" break up large groups.

"Women will be able to move around in Cologne without being worried," he told the newspaper.

The Cologne carnival jesters will also take a low-key approach. "We are preparing the way we do every year in full confidence in the security forces," the Cologne Carnival Committee has said.

The carnival committee in the state capital of Dusseldorf sees "no need for action" on stricter measures. "Security is a matter for the police and local authorities," committee president Michael Laumen says.

The events in Cologne on New Year's Eve have been closely followed in Mainz, the capital of the neighbouring state of Rhineland-Palatinate and another major carnival centre.

"Of course we are taking it seriously," says Michael Bonewitz of the Mainz Carnival Association. "But we should not allow ourselves to panic," he cautions.

Constant mistrust and worrying about potential dangers are the wrong approach, Bonewitz believes. "We cannot have our fun spoiled."

The organizers are staying in close contact with the police right up until the highpoint on Rose Monday on February 8, with almost daily consultations, Bonewitz says.

The way the street carnival is organized means that better preparation and planning can be done, by contrast with the more scattered New Year's Eve celebrations, he says. The carnival associations are backing up the police with hundreds of their own officials.

"We are relying on the work of the procession officials and the police, and doing all in our power to ensure a great festival," Bonewitz says.

Rhineland-Palatinate Prime Minister Malu Dreyer has made clear that "protection against violence and assault have the highest priority in the security concepts for major events."

State Interior Minister Roger Lewentz is deploying mobile police taskforces for the Rose Monday parade in Mainz. "They will facilitate rapid and massive intervention," he says.

Lewentz is also considering the used of so-called "body cams" for police to wear as "a tactical instrument to counter the increasing number of assaults at major events."

Whether the "Büttenredner" - speakers making fun of those in authority - will take up the sexual harassment theme is as yet not clear, although they traditionally tackle topical issues.

Last update: Sun, 10/01/2016 - 13:52

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