East Germans Riot, Wait in Line as Unification Moves Closer With AM-Germany-Europe, Bjt
EAST BERLIN (AP) _ East Germans lined up in front of banks on Sunday as they spent an anxious weekend on the threshold of enormous change.
Next Sunday, the former Communist country will merge its economy with West Germany, a momentous event that will have an immediate effect on the lives of the nation’s 16 million people.
Left-wing radicals tried to attack the East Berlin headquarters of a neo- Nazi group Saturday, the latest in a series of extremist clashes in recent months that some officials call a byproduct of the social upheaval under way.
Authorities said 21 police officers were badly injured in the rioting, and East German Interior Minister Peter-Michael Diestel called for tougher laws against extremist acts.
Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere urged the nation to stay calm and condemned extremist violence as an affront to the peaceful revolt that toppled the former Communist government last fall.
″Right extremist power must not be combated through violent left extremism,″ he said in a statement. ″The basis for the democratization of our land was the peaceful protest of the people. So must it remain.″
East Germany’s currency will be changed to West German marks Sunday, which marks the former Socialist nation’s official immersion into the free market and a major step toward full unification with West Germany.
Banks stayed open all weekend to allow customers to fill out applications to change their savings to West German marks, and thousands of people stood in lines.
To keep the powerful West German mark from being weakened by the abrupt expansion of the money supply, East Germans will only be able to convert 2,000 marks - $1,210 - of their savings to West marks during the first month of economic union.
Some already were receiving checks for that money, which they will be able to cash Sunday.
″We’re going to buy a car,″ said Margit Schollain, 32, as she waited with more than a thousand other people in lines that snaked from a bank on East Berlin’s Leipziger Street.
The mood was a mixture of apprehension and excitement over the economic experiment about to unfold.
″I think it will bring many social problems, and not just unemployment,″ said Jan Falkenstern, 24, as he waited. ″I think the unrest that happened yesterday is part of it.″
The riot in the city’s Lichtenberg district followed a demonstration by about 4,000 leftists who were protesting recent attacks by radical rightists on foreigners.
The group tried to march on an apartment house where members of the radical right-wing group, National Alternative, lived.
However, thousands of police blocked intersections and the protest broke up without incident.
Later, police said 400 leftists rampaged through the streets and battled police, who used tear gas, truncheons and water cannons. Four police vans were burned and a small kiosk was plundered. Four people were arrested.
Lichtenberg, a working class district where many Vietnamese, Mozambicans and other foreigners live, has become a flashpoint for extremist violence.
Diestel said in a statement Sunday the government should ban such radical groups and give the police broader powers to battle extremists.
Resentment of foreign workers in East Germany has been growing. The country is expected to face massive unemployment as its former state enterprises compete with more efficient Western companies that already are flooding the country.
On Leipziger Street, West Germany’s Mayer food chain already has renovated a building just 50 yards from a dowdier looking East German store. The new store is to open its doors next week.
″It is too expensive,″ said Martin Ibold, 31, as he waited in line at the bank across the street. ″I know a lot of these people will take their (West German) marks and buy a lot of things.
″But I have two children and another coming probably this week,″ he said, gesturing to his pregnant wife. ″I just need the money to live and keep up with the prices.″