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CRIME

Germany debates fireworks ban after New Year’s Eve chaos

Politicians and emergency service unions are debating a ban on the private use of fireworks after several attacks on firefighters and police were reported on New Year's Eve.

A burning trolley
A trolley burns in Leipzig. On New Year's Eve, there were clashes between rioters and police in the Connewitz district. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Willnow

Emergency representatives are also calling for more surveillance following assaults on workers during celebrations to bring in the new year in Germany. 

There were also several injuries reported in connection with members of the public using fireworks on Saturday night, and a 17-year-old man in Leipzig died from his injuries.

READ ALSO: German’s NYE celebrations marred by death, injuries and attacks

The chaos came after a two-year break due to Covid-19 regulations. During the pandemic, the sale of fireworks around the new year were banned across Germany to ease the burden on health and emergency care staff. But this year no restrictions were in place. 

According to an initial report from the Berlin fire service on New Year’s Day morning, 22 people were injured by firecrackers and rockets and there were 38 incidents of emergency service workers being attacked, resulting in 18 injuries, including one hospitalisation.

On Monday, Berlin Senator for Culture Klaus Lederer, of the Left party, spoke out in favour of a nationwide ban. “This would have to be regulated by federal law,” he told regional broadcaster RBB.

The German Fire Brigades Union called for emergency vehicles to be equipped with so-called dashcams – small cameras that could be used to better document attacks.

“It is unimaginable what our emergency services had to experience on this New Year’s Eve,” said the state chairman Lars Wieg.

READ ALSO: Why many German cities become a fireworks hell on NYE

Franziska Giffey (SPD), mayor of Berlin, said that the Senate would discuss the extension of firecracker ban zones. On New Year’s Eve, there were three zones. 

She also condemned the attacks, adding that the violence “creates fear and terror and has nothing to do with celebrating the new year”.

Lederer said he was critical of expanding the zones because more emergency workers would be needed at the sites to enforce it.

“I would actually like us to use our police officers for what they are there for and not for cat-and-mouse games in the city,” Lederer said.

However, Kai Wegner, Christian Democrats (CDU) chairman of the party in Berlin, said he opposed a general ban on using fireworks at home.

“I don’t believe that a private ban on firecrackers will solve the problem”, he said. 

Wegner told ARD that “criminals attack the police and fire service” and the tradition should not be “taken away from families”.

“This is a social problem, which you can’t solve with a firecracker ban alone, but with recognition, respect for the professions of police and firefighters and with the enforcement of applicable law,” he said.

Thorsten Frei, deputy chairman of the opposition CDU in the Bundestag, told the Rheinische Post that “peaceful revellers should not have to suffer” over the behaviour of a few people. 

As well as dashcams in vehicles, the firefighters’ union also said they wanted to see more bodycams, which are currently being tested. 

Before the turn of the year, the German Fire Brigades Association spoke out in favour of cracking down on attacks on emergency services. “We don’t need tougher punishments. I just want these penalties to be enforced,” association president Karl-Heinz Banse told DPA.

“It cannot be the case that our people are endangered, almost run over, and afterwards it is presented as a petty offence,” he said.

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FLOODS

German prosecutors drop investigation into ‘unforeseeable’ flood disaster

More than two and a half years after the deadly flood disaster in the Ahr Valley, western Germany, prosecutors have dropped an investigation into alleged negligence by the local district administrator.

German prosecutors drop investigation into 'unforeseeable' flood disaster

The public prosecutor’s office in Koblenz has closed the investigation into the deadly flood disaster in the Ahr valley that occurred in the summer of 2021.

A sufficient suspicion against the former Ahr district administrator Jürgen Pföhler (CDU) and an employee from the crisis team has not arisen, announced the head of the public prosecutor’s office in Koblenz, Mario Mannweiler, on Thursday.

Following the flood disaster in the Ahr region in Rhineland-Palatinate – in which 136 people died in Germany and thousands of homes were destroyed – there were accusations that the district of Ahrweiler, with Pföhler at the helm, had acted too late in sending flood warnings.

An investigation on suspicion of negligent homicide in 135 cases began in August of 2021. Pföhler had always denied the allegations.

READ ALSO: UPDATE – German prosecutors consider manslaughter probe into deadly floods

The public prosecutor’s office came to the conclusion that it was an extraordinary natural disaster: “The 2021 flood far exceeded anything people had experienced before and was subjectively unimaginable for residents, those affected, emergency services and those responsible for operations alike,” the authority said.

Civil protections in the district of Ahrweiler, including its disaster warning system, were found to be insufficient.

READ ALSO: Germany knew its disaster warning system wasn’t good enough – why wasn’t it improved?

But from the point of view of the public prosecutor’s office, these “quite considerable deficiencies”, which were identified by an expert, did not constitute criminal liability.

Why did the case take so long?

The investigations had dragged on partly because they were marked by considerable challenges, said the head of the Rhineland-Palatinate State Criminal Police Office, Mario Germano. “Namely, to conduct investigations in an area marked by the natural disaster and partially destroyed. Some of the people we had to interrogate were severely traumatised.”

More than 300 witnesses were heard including firefighters, city workers and those affected by the flood. More than 20 terabytes of digital data had been secured and evaluated, and more than 300 gigabytes were deemed relevant to the proceedings.

Pföhler, who stopped working as the district administrator in August 2021 due to illness, stepped down from the role in October 2021 citing an incapacity for duty. 

The conclusion of the investigation had been postponed several times, in part because the public prosecutor’s office wanted to wait for the outcome of the investigative committee in the Rhineland-Palatinate state parliament.

READ ALSO: Volunteer army rebuilds Germany’s flood-stricken towns

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