Arson Attacks in Germany Stoke Fears of Violent Protests During Upcoming G20 Summit

By James Carstensen | June 21, 2017 | 12:11am EDT

Berlin, Germany ( – Three weeks before Germany is due to host this year’s G20 summit, arsonists attacked passenger rail lines across 12 different locations across the country, in an anti-capitalism display that has stoked fears of greater violence in future.

Police are investigating attacks that have so far hit the states of Lower Saxony, Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony.

According to police, cable shafts were set aflame using homemade explosives, damaging signal systems and causing delays on rail routes in cities such as Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Dortmund, Leipzig, and Bremen.

The attacks are believed to be part of a protest against the G20 summit, which will see heads of state and government of the 20 leading and emerging industrial countries convene in the northern port city of Hamburg. They will include President Trump – who only recently secured accommodation for the event – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A claim of responsibility for Monday’s arson attacks was posted on left-wing website on behalf of a group calling itself "Shutdown G20: take Hamburg offline!"

“We are impinging on one of the central nervous systems of capitalism: several tens of thousands of kilometers of track," the statement said.

Markus Ulbig, the interior minister of Saxony state who also chairs a grouping of states’ interior ministers, condemned the attacks.

“The criminals have to understand that they are responsible not only for massive economic damage, but also endanger the lives of innumerable railway travelers,” the German daily Welt quoted him as saying. “This has nothing to do with globalization and social criticism, it is simply a gross criminal act, and requires severe punishment.”

“This is terrorism,” German police force chairman Rainer Wendt told Junge Freiheit. “The acts were well organized and coordinated. They are trying to influence the political mood with violence.”

The attacks came hours before Chancellor Angela Merkel was to address the “Civil 20” (C20) summit, at which non-governmental organizations listed concerns regarding the global economy and hand them to Merkel to raise during the G20 summit.

In her speech, Merkel called for “sustainable, inclusive growth” and “better opportunities for women.” While the big topic of the C20 event appeared to be concerns over the Paris climate agreement, Merkel also directly responded to the attacks, acknowledging protest as an integral part of democracy but calling for peaceful demonstrations.

“I know that a G20 summit or the political agenda of such a summit also has its critics,” she said. From a democratic point of view, Merkel continued, that was a “good thing.”

“But, I emphasize, it should also be peaceful criticism.”

G20 summits frequently attract demonstrations, like this one in Seoul in 2010, with protestors targeting capitalism, globalism and a range of other issues. (Photo: Xinhua, File)

Bernd Bornhorst, board member of an NGO called the Association for Development and Humanitarian Aid, spoke critically about the G20 and economic models “based on the exploitation of man and nature,” but also stressed the protest must be peaceful.

“We distance ourselves from every form of violence,” he said.

Protest organizers have so far registered plans to hold more than 25 demonstrations in the run up to, and during, the summit.

Organizers of a demonstration called Hamburg Against the G20 summit, said in a political statement that “the political representatives of this world disorder want to come to Hamburg: Erdogan from Turkey, Putin from Russia, the cold putschist Temer from Brazil, and if we are unlucky also Donald Trump.”

The statement was also critical about western European leaders, saying that they “are the ones that build walls and fences and coldly allow fleeing people to drown at sea. We will show them that they are not welcome in Hamburg!”

Monday’s attacks were notable for targeting facilities used by the general public, rather than focusing on the police or other more traditional targets of anti-capitalist demonstrators.

As such, authorities fear they may be a precursor for larger and more violent protests, when tens of thousands of people are expected to protest the G20.

In order to ensure security at the summit, the federal government has allocated 50 million euros ($55.6 million), and according to Hamburg police spokesman Timo Zill, the city will deploy 15,000 policemen from across Germany.

“We expect about seven to eight thousand ‘ready-for-violence’ demonstrators to participate in the rallies,” Zill said.

In her appearance at the C20 on Monday, Merkel acknowledged the challenges facing security forces.

“This G20 meeting will be a challenge for the organizers, the security forces, and not least for the city and its citizens.”

Dr. Nicholas Hill, a representative of a public protest initiative called “Haltung Hamburg” (“Hamburg Attitude”), said that while locals’ views of the G20 in Hamburg were mixed, most were critical of the summit.

“A popular argument of critics is that a lot of resources are spent without any real political outcome.” Hill said.

He noted, however, that some saw the G20 as an opportunity to have their voices heard.

“Others believe that it is better when such a summit takes place in the city, as world leaders should see the protests of the people; be closer to the real world and feel the pressure of protests.”

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