The Wild East: Riots Latest Symbol of Growing Lawlessness
BERLIN (AP) _ Thousands of riot troops stormed a barricaded neighborhood with bulldozers and armored trucks Wednesday and smashed a defiant community of anarchists in the heart of Berlin.
Commuters watched as officers burst through the makeshift barriers after daybreak and battled for hours before driving hundreds of radicals from a row of tenements in the former East Berlin.
At least 325 people were arrested and 70 officers and protesters were injured, including one squatter shot in the foot when a police officer’s warning shot ricocheted, police said.
One officer and 15 squatters had to be hospitalized, they said.
About 50,000 people marched through eastern Berlin late Wednesday to denounce the police raid and to demand affordable housing.
Many residents of eastern Berlin now get rent subsidies, a practice that will soon end.
The protesters tried to march to the street where the squatters lived, but a huge police presence turned them back. No serious violence resulted, although protesters tore down or burned campaign posters that major political parties have put up for the Dec. 2 national elections.
Wednesday’s confrontation was the third in three days on Mainzer Street and the latest example of lawlessness in the former East Germany, once strictly controlled by Communist rulers.
As many as 3,000 police, many of them paramilitary units brought in from other German states, moved in to seize the heavily fortified Mainzer Street and adjoining streets where leftist radicals had taken up positions.
Armored personnel carriers and bulldozers burst through several barricades and officers used clubs, water cannons and tear gas in pitched battles with the radicals.
Radicals fired flare guns and threw rocks and firebombs from rooftops and windows. The battle spilled onto several other streets and an adjoining six- lane thoroughfare was closed to traffic.
″And now, our street is kaput,″ said Waetroud Goets, 59, after the fighting spread to the block where she lived for 30 years. ″I never had any trouble with these people, but as soon as the police showed up they started throwing rocks.″
After the fighting, Mainzer Street was filled with smoldering debris - spent tear-gas canisters, junked cars and furniture that had been hurled from windows. Much of the street was torn up by the radicals, who used its cobblestones as weapons.
Berlin Interior Minister Erich Paetzold said the clash was marked by ″unbelievable brutality″ from the radicals.
Baerbel Bohley, an activist who helped lead the peaceful revolt that toppled communism last year, denounced the police raid as an unnecessary use of force. She said a peaceful solution could have been reached.
Most of the radicals involved in the fighting are anarchists from the former West Berlin. Hundreds of radicals have taken over abandoned row houses in eastern Berlin and have built encampments on vacant land where the Berlin Wall once stood.
The largest such community was on Mainzer Street, where 12 tenements were occupied and radicals set up special houses and cafes for women and homosexuals. Signs and slogans, such as ″Eat the Rich,″ and ″Learn to Burn,″ covered the tenements decorated with the red-and-black flags of the anarchist movement.
Authorities evicted radical leftists from three houses in other parts of the city early Monday. Radicals on Mainzer Street began building barricades, and hurled rocks when police showed up Monday afternoon.
That clash lasted until Tuesday morning, and at least 137 officers were hurt and 20 people were arrested.
Experts say eastern Germany’s freedom from authoritarian rule and its dire economic problems - including a high unemployment rate and a lack of affordable housing - have created a breeding ground for unrest.
The crime has included rampages by hooligans after soccer games, attacks on foreigners and homosexuals by neo-Nazis and increases in prostitution, drugs and gambling.