Police in Frankfurt cleared hundreds of protesters who set up camp outside the European Central Bank in October as they prepare for as many as 30,000 anti-capitalist activists to besiege Germany’s banking capital.
Officers started carrying off demonstrators gathered under the Occupy Frankfurt banner at about 9 a.m. local time today after issuing several warnings. The camp is being cleared before the ECB begins a conference on monetary policy, and the first of the four-day protest rallies gets under way this afternoon.
“We want to change the system, we want to criticize it, and we’re not allowed to do so,” said Erik Kuhn, an activist at the ECB camp. “We hope to achieve some publicity to show the people in Germany and around Europe that the state and the city of Frankfurt doesn’t have a clue how to react to the protests.”
The protests are taking place as disenchantment with Europe and Germany’s response to the sovereign debt crisis grows and Frankfurt, the euro’s birthplace, becomes a focal point of the discontent. The euro and stocks fell as investors speculated that Greece may drop out of the single currency after its budget-deficit blowout triggered a financial crisis across the continent that continues to rage.
Greek leaders seek agreement today on an interim government that will schedule new elections as early as June 10, after government-formation talks collapsed amid concern the country will abandon the euro common currency. Voters handed Syriza, the country’s biggest anti-bailout party, 16.8 percent of power in May 6 elections.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, who ousted Nicolas Sarkozy in elections this month, said yesterday they would consider measures to spur economic growth in Greece as long as voters there committed to the austerity demanded to stay in the euro.
The ECB has taken steps to remain operational and ensure the safety of its employees and visitors during the protests, according to an e-mailed statement from the central bank today.
Authorities erected fences in front of several banks in Frankfurt, where Germany’s largest lenders Deutsche Bank AG and Commerzbank AG are based. The demonstrators outside the ECB, who numbered several hundred, resorted to splashing police with a mixture paint and water in an otherwise peaceful response to the evacuation.
Police closed off a subway station underneath Deutsche Bank’s headquarters, one of the targets of the rallies. Commerzbank is shutting its two towers and closing branch offices to protect their staff and property, the bank said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
Some shops on Frankfurt’s Goethestrasse, including luxury retailers Tiffany & Co. and Jil Sander AG, boarded up windows with plywood today.
“We want to be peaceful, what’s the point of us being cleared out of here just because there’s a security area?” said Marcel Goebel, a protester. “We won’t take what’s happening any longer with all the bailouts. I’m scared the euro is going to break up, that it goes completely downhill because Greece is in crisis, Spain will be, France will be and Italy too. If it all falls apart, the euro won’t be worth anything.”
The administrative court of the state of Hesse banned the protests through May 18, Katrin Lehmann, a spokeswoman for the court in Kassel, said in a telephone interview. The decision overturned a ruling by a Frankfurt court that permitted a rally outside the ECB today and a rave tonight. The Kassel court said a demonstration on May 19 can go ahead.
Protesters can still ask the federal constitutional court in Karlsruhe to overturn the verdicts of the Frankfurt and Kassel courts.
Some demonstrators will probably proceed with protests regardless of whether they have permits, Gerhard Bereswill, vice president of the Frankfurt police, said at a press conference yesterday.
The Blockupy Frankfurt movement is affiliated with the activist group Attac. The Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens was founded in Paris in 1998 is now active in 40 countries, according to its website.
“We want solutions, real solutions,” said Kuhn, from the Bavarian town of Aschaffenburg who has camped in front of the ECB since October. “The movement is about the financial system, the crisis in it and everything that is connected to it. We have to talk about homeless people, we have to talk about jobs, taxes. We have our democratic right to do so.”
About 5,000 police officers will be deployed each day to protect the ECB, banks and demonstrators, Harald Schneider, who is leading the police operation, said at the press conference yesterday. Police are advising Frankfurters to leave their cars at home and avoid confrontation with protesters.