German chancellor condemns 'blind fury' of G20 protesters

No justification for arson, looting and attacks on police, Angela Merkel says

German chancellor Angela Merkel sits with members of law enforcement and emergency services while thanking them at the conclusion of the G20 economic summit on July 8, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. Severe rioting by anti-G20 activists that included looting, arson and attacks on police overshadowed the two-day summit. Sean Gallup / Getty Images
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the "blind fury" of militants behind repeated outbreaks of rioting, as tens of thousands of anti-capitalist protesters flooded into Hamburg on the final day of the troubled G20 summit of world leaders.

Mrs Merkel, who chaired the two-day event, said the violence had put the lives of policemen and women in danger while also delivering a slap in the face to those who wished – and were entitled - to demonstrate peacefully.

"There is not the slightest justification for pillage, arson and the brutality of the attacks on the life and limbs of policemen," the chancellor told reporters at her closing press conference as delegates prepared to leave Germany.

Those responsible had unleashed violence in a "blind fury" that showed they were interested only in destruction, not serious discussion. ''They are not democrats,'' she added.

Mrs Merkel promised speedy action to compensate, with a minimum of red tape, shopkeepers and other Hamburg citizens who had suffered damage to property.

Ranging from extreme left-wingers and anarchists to environmental campaigners, protesters started gathering in the northern port city earlier in the week before the summit opened on Friday. But the carnival mood of Wednesday gave way to fierce violence the following night during a so-called ''Welcome to Hell'' march.

The sight of blazing cars and buildings, barricades and the use by police of water cannons to disperse angry mobs became commonplace.

Police said on Saturday that more than 200 officers had been injured, while the number of arrests rose to 265. Both figures are likely to climb.

With tens of thousands of protesters converging on Hamburg for the final day, local police commanders called in 2,000 extra officers from elsewhere in Germany, bringing total numbers to 21,000.

Saturday's daytime protests passed off without serious incident, though police were expecting to be kept busy throughout the night.

There were minor skirmishes, sparked by demonstrators' refusal to remove face-covering masks, which are illegal at protests in Germany. Organisers claimed a turnout of 76,000 at the main rally despite what they called "police brutality" but police put the figure at 22,000

Complaints about alleged police heavy-handedness were rife from the moment water cannons were used for the first time against protesters at a largely peaceful gathering on Tuesday.

Police chiefs argued that since the declared intention was to disrupt the summit by any means necessary, they had no choice but to act firmly.

Mrs Merkel strong defended her decision to hold the event in her native Hamburg and said world leaders attending it were united in congratulating the police officers who had protected them and ensured the meeting went ahead.

"I do not believe we can accept a situation where you cannot hold certain conferences in certain areas," she said.

Delegates were aware of the scale and effect of the disturbances from television images and their own difficulties in getting to and from their hotels, she said.

Mr Trump and Mr Putin had direct or indirect experience of the trouble. Security guards at Mr Putin’s hotel were attacked on Friday and the protesters’ attempts to block routes to the summit venue, the Hamburg Messe (Exhibition) and Congress Centre, forced his entourage to take a circuitous route.

On Friday, security concerns prevented Mr Trump’s wife, Melania, from leaving the residence where the couple were accommodated by Hamburg city authorities to join other spouses on a programme of visits.

She did, however, accompany her husband to a performance at the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, on the Grasbrook peninsula of the river Elbe river on Friday night, despite concerted attempts by mobs of protesters to storm the building.

A heavy police presence kept the demonstrators back and officers arrested a group of Greenpeace activists who tried to reach the theatre in boats.

During Saturday’s summit meetings, Mr Trump referred to the ”interruptions” of the previous day.

The German news agency DPA quoted peaceful demonstrators at a big rally in the city centre's Deichtorplatz square as deploring the actions of rioters, which they said diluted their message.

“I’m annoyed. All that will remain are images of these criminals wreaking havoc in the city,” said one, Nadine Nixdorf, 31, attending with her baby. “I am here because I still hope we can get our message across that we want change, that the G20 leaders’ understanding of democracy doesn’t align with ours.”