Merkel Defends Decision to Host G-20 in Hamburg After Rioting

  • Chancellor promises compensation for those hit by looting
  • Violent clashes leave more than 200 police officers injured

G-20 Protests Get Heated in Hamburg

Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the decision to host the Group of 20 summit in Germany’s second-biggest city, promising government compensation for property damage in the wake of looting and rioting by anti-capitalist activists in Hamburg.

Angela Merkel speaks July 8.

Photographer: Patrik Stollarz/AFP via Getty Images

Speaking at the end of the summit on Saturday, Merkel told reporters that, from a pure logistical point of view, the two-day gathering had to be held in a large city, given the sheer number of leaders and guests needing housing. Hamburg was also chosen as a symbol of openness to trade because the city of 1.7 million is Germany’s largest port and richest state per capita.

Instead, the image seared in the minds of many Germans was one of violent clashes, which left more than 200 police injured and resulted in about 260 protesters being detained. Scenes of chaos, looting and burning cars have played out live on German television since Thursday, shocking many in a country known for its orderliness. Merkel, who is running for re-election in September in part on a theme of public safety, fielded several questions from German media at her closing press conference on the protests and response.

“I condemn in the strongest terms the unchained violence and unrestrained brutality that the police faced repeatedly during the G-20,” Merkel told reporters. “Apparently, there are people who have no interest in the issues and instead go on a rampage of blind destruction in their own neighborhood. Tough police measures are the only response to that.”

Dogs Barking

After speaking with reporters, Merkel met for about 20 minutes with police from around Germany and Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz, who himself has been criticized in the press and on social media for his handling of the riots. One officer asked the chancellor point blank if she felt it was all worth the trouble given what the police went through.

“You have protected something that I would say was worthy of protection,” the chancellor replied as police dogs barked in the background and helicopters buzzed overhead.

As the summit concluded on Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered for a mass rally and march through the city that went off largely without incident, with protesters waving colorful banners with insignia for Germany’s anti-capitalist Left party, Turkish and Kurdish dissident groups, and labor and environmental organizations. A leader of Germany’s largest opposition party attending the rally denounced some of the tactics used by police during the G-20, such as deploying water cannon to break up peaceful sit-ins.

"The G-20 is an anachronism and this summit especially is a fiasco for democracy," Katja Kipping, co-chairwoman of the Left party, told the demonstrators on Saturday at a march that largely went off peacefully. Police estimated about 50,000 turned out for the “Solidarity Without Borders” demonstration, while organizers put the number at more than 75,000.

Police on Saturday conducted raids in the city’s Schanzenviertel, the neighborhood where the looting took place on Friday night. In one home they searched, the said they found illegal pyrotechnics. Residents of the area, meantime, were cleaning up following the dramatic clashes between rioters and police that left cars torched, streets strewn with debris and store fronts trashed. Police said some 500 assailants ransacked a supermarket.

People are seen breaking into stores and looting goods in Hamburg on July 7.

Photographer: Omer Messinger/NurPhoto via Getty Image

The violence of recent days has brought condemnation from others in Merkel’s government as well. Peter Altmaier, her chief of staff, characterized the riots as “terror.”

"The left extremist terror in Hamburg was disgusting and as bad as terror by right-wing extremists and Islamists," Altmaier posted on Twitter on Saturday.

As Merkel hosted leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump, who had his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg, the protests proved at times overwhelming for city authorities and the almost 20,000 police on hand to maintain security.

“The brutality, with the extremely violent chaos in Hamburg yesterday and the day before, is incomprehensible and outrageous,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said, calling for the prosecution of those who committed such acts. “They are not protesters, they are criminals.”

— With assistance by Katharina Rosskopf

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