Merkel.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MICHAEL KAPPELER

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday she wants stricter asylum laws, after a series of sexual assaults in the western German city of Cologne shocked the country.

"What happened on New Year's Eve are despicable criminal acts that demand decisive answers," Merkel said after a meeting among the top ranks of her Christian Democratic Union.

She said changes to the current law would be "in the interest of citizens, but also just as much in the interest of the majority of refugees."

Proposed measures could see people's right to seek asylum revoked if they are convicted of crimes, according to an agreement inked by party officials at the conference in the city of Mainz, near Frankfurt.

The document, which focuses on criminals of foreign nationality, also proposes random police checks in high-risk situations.

Of the 32 suspects identified by police in Cologne, 22 are asylum seekers, none of whom are believed to have committed assaults of a sexual nature, the German Interior Ministry said.

Around 1,000 heavily intoxicated men are thought to have surrounded, taunted and sexually assaulted women, many of whom were also robbed of their belongings, in front of Cologne's main train station on New Year's Eve.

Police have received around 170 complaints mainly of a sexual nature, including two allegations of rape.

Merkel was appealing to her centre-left coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), on Saturday to back her planned reforms, adding that she expected a quick decision on the matter.

SPD leader and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has signaled his support for stricter rules, although that party has often tried to block controversial proposals aimed at stemming the flow of migrants.

"The SPD mustn't get stuck in pithy demands; instead it must now ease off on the breaks of its previous blockade," CDU Deputy Chairwoman Julia Kloeckner warned.

On the other side of Merkel's coalition spectrum, her conservative sister party, the Christian Social Union, has frequently demanded a cap on migration to the country - but the chancellor reiterated her opposition to the proposal following Saturday's talks.

Some 1.1 million refugees and migrants entered Germany in 2015, the largest group of which come from Syria.

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