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    Riots in Gießen: storming controversial Eritrea festival – police use batons and pepper spray


    SAlready early on Saturday morning and thus before the start of the controversial Eritrea Festival in Gießen, the police had taken around 60 people into custody.

    From 5.30 a.m., several groups of people tried to get to the Hessenhallen event site, the police said. A video published on a social media platform indicated a planned attack on the cultural event. However, a “large number of emergency services” were able to prevent the advance to the Hessenhallen. Around 50 references had already been issued beforehand.

    Around noon, the “Gießener Allgemeine” then reported that the situation on site was escalating. Apparently several people tried to break through a police line. “The colleagues were massively attacked, stones thrown, bottles thrown, smoke bombs,” said the spokesman in Gießen afterwards. Several colleagues were injured. In addition, several people tried to swim through the Lahn. The officers used pepper spray and batons. A total of 26 emergency services were injured.

    In the evening about a hundred people were still in custody. Investigations, including for bodily harm and serious breach of the peace, have been initiated.

    Because of the violent incidents, the police have meanwhile advised residents to avoid the city area and drive around a large area. The more than 1000 forces are deployed at several locations in the city. There are severe traffic delays, the police said on Saturday afternoon. It should also have come to threats to drivers, it said. Some vehicles were damaged. Objects were thrown from a bridge.

    Report of killed demonstrators denied

    On Twitter circulate under the hashtag #Pour numerous mobile phone videos from eyewitnesses throughout the day, some of which document tumultuous scenes in the city area. How heated the situation was was also shown in a statement from the police in the afternoon: The officials called on the Internet to not to spread fake news. Then it was expressly denied that a participant in the disruptive actions had allegedly been killed. So far, there is no evidence of this, it said.

    The background to the dispute are conflicts between rival groups in the home country of Eritrea, which are also increasingly taking place in Germany. The festival is therefore considered highly political and highly competitive, because the Eritrean community is divided into critics and supporters of the regime in Eritrea. Oppositionists reject the festival because of its closeness to the Eritrean government.

    The festival had already escalated last year with numerous injuries, which is why the city of Giessen wanted to ban the festival. On Friday, however, the Hessian Administrative Court rejected complaints by the city of Gießen against a decision by the Gießen Administrative Court, which had previously overturned the ban. Around 5,000 visitors are expected to attend the festival this weekend.

    The organizer’s security concept is sufficient to counteract the impending dangers for organizers and visitors, the VGH explained in justification. A city spokeswoman said they regretted the decision, but are now working with the police to ensure safety in the city.

    Police have prepared “big situation”.

    From the point of view of the VGH, the organizer cannot be held responsible for the threats of violence made on social media. In addition, the city “did not communicate its expectations for a security concept appropriate to the danger situation to the organizer clearly enough and not in good time”.

    The festival, which was supposed to start this Saturday and last until Sunday, was also banned by the Gießen regulatory office in view of the violent protests at the previous event last summer.

    From the point of view of the authorities, the security concept was not sufficient to avert impending dangers, especially for festival visitors, but also for the general public. There were indications that people wanted to come to the central Hessian city to commit acts of violence. The police headquarters in Central Hesse had already prepared for a possible “major situation” and announced consistent action against any violations. Among other things, a weapons ban zone was set up, and controls had already taken place the night before.

    Central Council of Eritreans Germany defends itself against allegations

    In August 2022, around 100 people attacked helpers and visitors to the event at the time, 26 of them were injured, and seven police officers also suffered minor injuries. The police finally dissolved the event, and 300 officers were on duty. This event was also controversial.

    Last week, the city therefore referred to concrete threats against the event and its visitors as well as against law enforcement officers and the police. The Central Council of Eritreans Germany, as the organiser, has not adjusted the security concept despite repeated requests and has not submitted any access regulations for the site. Rather, he stated “that he wanted to let everyone in and did not provide for any access restrictions”.

    The German-Eritrean Society had reacted outraged to the ban and accused the city, among other things, of “excessively extending the requirements” with which they wanted to enforce their ban on an “unwanted event”. According to the Federal Office for Migration, around 74,000 people from Eritrea currently live in Germany.

    Editor’s note: This text is continuously updated.

    “Kick-off” is WELT’s daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts or directly by RSS feed.

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