POLICE cars burned and stones were thrown at officers in Frankfurt yesterday as anti-capitalist protesters in their thousands rioted before the official opening of the European Central Bank’s lavish new headquarters.
It is the first time that Germany – fiscal taskmaster of the EU and the driving force behind the austerity programmes that have driven Greece to the brink of exiting the euro – has experienced such a major demonstration against the financial status quo.
Facing the authorities was a leftist alliance composed of more than 90 organisations from across Europe united in opposition to what the anti-capitalist group Blockupy dubbed “the European crisis regime”.
Representatives of Die Linke – The Left – party which has 10 per cent of the seats in the German national parliament were also on the streets as well as members of Germany’s second biggest union, Verdi.
These groups distanced themselves from the violence which they say was caused by anarchists coming in from outside.
Nearly 90 police officers were injured by stones, petrol bombs, bottles and corrosive liquids while dozens of protestors turned up at local hospitals, many with head wounds where they had clashed with baton-wielding officers.
At least 350 demonstrators were arrested after water cannon were brought in and tear gas fired in a bid to control the protesters, estimated at 10,000.
The blocked streets surrounding the besieged £1 billion tower block which is years behind schedule and, say critics, the biggest waste of money that the continent has seen in years.
Organisers opposed to it had a long time to prepare to protest against its opening, chartering buses and even a special train to get them to Frankfurt.
A live ticker report on the Die Welt newspaper website yesterday showed the chaos they cause on the streets, commenting: “Many streets and squares in the city are currently a battleground with burning barricades, police cars, water cannons and a large contingent of police.”
Der Spiegel magazine’s website reported that one demonstrator came with his baby son and held him high up over the crowd so he could look at a police car being torched.
The A661 autobahn was closed because of smoke from barricades drifting over the carriageways, one tram line was shut down, all schools closed and all postal deliveries and collections suspended for the day.
Peter Beuth, a member of Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU Conservative party and the interior minister for the state of Hessen in which Frankfurt lies, said: “I had fears about this happening and sadly those fears have been confirmed.
“This is violence to an extent that Frankfurt has never previously experienced.”