Hamburg in July, a lovely city in the north. It's usually worth the trip, but not just at the moment. For in many ways the city isn't itself right now. Its splendor has disappeared - behind black smoke, behind water sprayed from cannons, behind massive groups of protesters dressed in black, behind police clad in riot gear. Behind barbed wire, police barriers and roadblocks. Chaos on the street and the railway. Burning vehicles, not just luxury automobiles but also family cars. The distinction doesn't matter: All that matters is that it's burning.It started Thursday. As the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, for instance:
A massive demonstration targeting the “Group of 20” (G20) summit in Hamburg, Germany, turned violent Thursday, with TV networks around the world showing live footage of police fighting with protesters.
The G-20 gathering consists of leaders from the European Union and 19 countries, including the U.S., Japan, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Russia and South Africa, who meet annually to discuss international cooperation on financial and economic issues.
Protesters with many different agendas lined the streets in a demonstration organizers titled “G-20: Welcome to Hell.”
At least 196 police officers were injured, dozens of activists had to be taken to the hospital and more than 70 protesters were detained.
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Plumes of smoke hung over Hamburg as police fought running battles with protesters trying to penetrate security zones protecting the meeting of world leaders. They waved “Smash G20” banners and chanted “the whole of Hamburg hates the police”.
One officer fired a warning shot, with a police spokesman saying that he had been attacked by protesters. “A police officer was attacked by several violent people and he fired a warning shot,” police said on Twitter. The officer then fled into a shop and was rescued.
Clashes erupted in the port area just 300m from the Elbphilharmonie concert hall where world leaders were scheduled to dine and be treated to a rendition of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy last night.
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By last night, about 60 people had been arrested. Police said that 160 officers had been injured, some suffering flesh wounds from ball bearings fired from catapults. Far-left protesters slashed the tyres of a car belonging to Canada’s G20 delegation and smashed windows of the Mongolian consulate. The city’s anti-capitalist alliance against the G20 said in a statement: “We don’t have any confirmed figures yet on arrests and injuries but we fear that many people were injured by water cannon, baton-wielding police officers and pepper spray.”From the Financial Times:
A night of running battles between police and rioting protesters in the Schanzenviertel district, a stronghold of Hamburg’s vibrant alternative scene, left a trail of devastation in its wake. The focus of the violence was near the Rote Flora, a former theatre that has for years been occupied by leftwing activists.
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Around midnight, police deployed special forces and armoured cars to clear the area. In a statement, they said they came under “continuous violent attack” and were pelted with stones and bottles.According to The Hill, "[p]rotesters were armed with slingshots, iron rods and firebombs and were using them on police Saturday." Also, "[n]early 200 police officers were injured during protests, according to reports. Local police called in reinforcements to join 20,000 officers already deployed on the streets of Hamburg."
Although several of the news sources have asserted that protesters were mostly peaceful, or tried to cast the violent protesters as just "leftists," the majority of reports I have come across having indicated that the violent protesters were members of Black-Bloc, although The Australian article cited above also indicated that "[m]arine police units intercepted 22 divers from Greenpeace, the environmental pressure group, who had also been trying to reach the concert hall...." The Financial Times, for instance, reported that "dozens of militants, mainly from the Black Bloc movement, had rampaged through the Schanzenviertel armed with iron rods and Molotov cocktails, and had used rubbish bins, bicycles and road signs to build barricades." But The Australian put the numbers as much higher:
The authorities blamed the rioting on the infamous “black block” of militant protesters who have converged on Hamburg from all over Europe. Of the estimated 100,000 demonstrators in the city who are angry about issues including globalisation, capitalism, climate change and Donald Trump’s presence, about 8000 are known by the security services as violent anarchists with expertise in paralysing computer systems such as air traffic control programs and the use of firearms and arson.And The Daily Mail's article also put the number of "thugs" at 10,000. According to another Deutsche Welle article, "[t]he black bloc generally comprises hard-left activists, often autonomous anarchists who want to put an end to capitalism and replace it with a libertarian system where money and the state have no power." But something new, apparently, was the level of violence. Again, from The Financial Times:
A police spokesman said the riots in the Schanzenviertel revealed “a new dimension in the kind of violence and aggression shown to police”.
Even activist leaders were shocked at the mayhem. Andreas Blechschmidt, spokesman for the Rote Flora and an organiser of some of the biggest protests of the week, said a “form of militancy had poured out on to the streets which was intoxicated with itself”. “And we find that politically . . . wrong,” he said.Notably, there was also looting, according to the Daily Mail article.