You are here

Merkel faces critics after violent attacks leave Germans stunned

Thursday, July 28, 2016 - 13:01
39235753 - 28_07_2016 - EUROPE-ATTACKS_MERKEL.jpg
Chancellor Angela Merkel is breaking off her vacation to defend herself against renewed criticism of her refugee policies following a rash of violent attacks in Germany.

[BERLIN] Chancellor Angela Merkel is breaking off her vacation to defend herself against renewed criticism of her refugee policies following a rash of violent attacks in Germany.

Dr Merkel, who had planned to remain out of public view during the summer break, will answer questions on Thursday afternoon for the first time since the four assaults - a shooting spree, ax attack, suicide bombing and machete assault - left 13 dead this month. Three of the attacks were committed by asylum seekers.

"The chancellor certainly can't keep her head low after such events," said Ulrich Sarcinelli, a politics professor at the University of Koblenz-Landau. While Dr Merkel will have to address the terror threat, "she'll do everything not to escalate the general agitation."

While many in the political establishment and national media have maintained a restrained unity, some lawmakers in Dr Merkel's Christian Democratic-led bloc and politicians from the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, have pressed their criticism that Dr Merkel's accommodating stance toward refugees over the past year has created a threat to security.

After an easing of the influx of migrants softened public anxiety in Germany, Dr Merkel will seek to get ahead of any public backlash and limit the political fallout.

The most likely political beneficiary is the AfD, which has already nabbed supporters from the CDU concerned about public safety. 

Dr Merkel's annual summer press conference is an open-ended session where she's likely to be questioned as well on a host of other crises, including the UK's decision to leave the European Union, struggling Italian banks and the tense political situation in Turkey following the failed military coup.

A deal the EU struck with Turkey this year is a key reason for the decrease in the flow of refugees to Germany.

Dr Merkel made a brief statement on Saturday after the first two attacks to reassure the  public that the government had public safety under control, pledging that "we will find what exactly was behind this act."

The motives behind the assaults vary.

The most deadly involved a July 22 shooting spree by an 18-year-old born and raised in Munich who opened fire at a shopping centre in the city, gunning down nine before killing himself.

Following a police operation that put the Bavarian capital into lock down, authorities said the killer acted alone and had been obsessed with mass shootings. He was neither a migrant nor had any connection to a terror organisation.

Two other attacks in Bavaria - one by a 17-year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan on July 18 who seriously injured commuters on a train with an ax and another by a 27-year-old Syrian refugee who blew himself up outside a music festival - were either inspired by or connected to Islamic State.

The fourth attack, by a Syrian refugee who killed a woman south of Stuttgart, was unrelated to terror activity, police said.

PUBLIC ANXIETY

Still, the welter of violence has fed into public anxiety over the influx of more than a million migrants in 2015.

Criticism of Dr Merkel's open-door stance hit a tipping point in January after a series of sexual assaults on New Year's Eve in Cologne, committed by a group of mostly migrant men.

The first real political test for Dr Merkel will come in September, when her home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania holds elections. The AfD was already polling at 19 per cent in the state prior to the assaults, while the CDU was at 25 per cent.

Dr Merkel, who usually spends the beginning of her summer vacation visiting the Wagner opera festival in Bayreuth and then afterward hiking in the Alps, has thus far spent the break at her home in the Uckermark region outside Berlin.

BLOOMBERG