Brutal assault on politician sparks alarm over political violence in Germany

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  • Berlin politician Franziska Giffey was violently assaulted at a library event by a man who hit her with a bag containing a hard object.
  • Giffey, a former mayor and federal minister, was taken to the hospital for treatment.
  • Recent attacks on politicians, including the beating of a candidate in Dresden, have heightened political tensions.

A prominent Berlin politician was violently assaulted and suffered injuries to her head and neck, police said Wednesday, in the latest attack on elected officials that raises concern over rising political violence in Germany.

Franziska Giffey, the city’s top economic official, a former mayor and an ex-federal minister, was attacked at an event in a Berlin library on Tuesday by a man who approached her from behind and hit her with a bag containing a hard device, police said.

Giffey was taken to a hospital and treated for head and neck pain, police said. A 74-year-old man was detained and police searched his home, police said. They said the suspect was known to police, but did not give any indication for a motive.

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Berlin Mayor Kai Wegner strongly condemned the attack.

Franziska Giffey

Franziska Giffey, Berlin’s top economic official, speaks to the media after an event about solar energy in Berlin, Germany, on May 8, 2024. Giffey, the former Mayor of Berlin, was violently assaulted at an event in a Berlin library and had to be hospitalized on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

“Anyone who attacks politicians is attacking our democracy,” said Wegner, according to German news agency dpa. “We will not tolerate this. We will oppose all forms of violence, hatred and agitation and protect our democracy.”

Giffey wrote on Instagram that “we live in a free and democratic country in which everyone is free to express their opinion … and yet there is a clear limit. And that is violence against people who hold a different opinion, for whatever reason, in whatever form.”

“They are a transgression of boundaries that we as a society must resolutely oppose,” she said.

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Later on Wednesday, Giffey, protected by several bodyguards, told reporters at a public event in Berlin that she was feeling fine but that “we also have to make it possible for us to live in a country where those who bear social and political responsibility can move freely.”

Last week, a candidate from the party of Chancellor Olaf Scholz was beaten up in the eastern city of Dresden while campaigning for next month’s election for the European Parliament and had to undergo surgery.

Police detained four suspects, aged between 17 and 18, and said that the same group had apparently attacked a Greens party worker minutes before they attacked Matthias Ecke. At least one of the teens is said to be linked to far-right groups, security officials said.

Also on Tuesday, a 47-year-old Green Party politician was attacked by two people while putting up election posters in Dresden, dpa reported.

The incidents have raised political tensions in Germany.

Both government and opposition parties say their members and supporters have faced a wave of physical and verbal attacks in recent months, and have called on police to step up protection for politicians and election rallies.

In February, the German Parliament said in a report there were a total of 2,790 attacks on elected representatives in 2023. Representatives of The Greens were disproportionally affected in 1,219 cases, those from the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, in 478 cases and representatives of the SPD in 420 cases.

The country’s vice chancellor, Robert Habeck, who is a member of The Greens, was prevented from disembarking a ferry for hours by a group of angry farmers in January, and the vice president of the German Parliament, Katrin Goering-Eckardt, also from The Greens, was prevented from leaving an event in the state of Brandenburg last week when an angry crowd blocked her car.

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Germany’s federal interior minister, Nancy Faeser, said after a special meeting of the country’s 16 state interior ministers on the issue of violence on Tuesday that possible measures included tightening Germany’s criminal law in order to “punish anti-democratic acts more severely,”

Many of the incidents have taken place in the former communist east of the country, where Scholz’s government is deeply unpopular. The Interior Ministry in the state of Saxony said it had registered 112 election-related crimes so far this year, including 30 against elected officials or representatives.

Mainstream parties have accused AfD of links to violent neo-Nazi groups and of fomenting an intimidating political climate. One of its leaders, Bjoern Hoecke, is currently on trial for using a banned Nazi slogan.

Alternative for Germany, which campaigns against immigration and European integration, is expected to make gains in the European polls as well as in elections in Saxony and two other eastern German states in the fall.



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