Cologne police chief to resign over handling of sex assault allegations

Police have identified 31 people suspected of playing a role in the violence

Cologne police chief to resign over handling of sex assault allegations

Police officers patrol in front of the main station of Cologne, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Hermann J. Knippertz)

UPDATED: 20.30

Cologne's police chief has been forced to resign following criticism over his handling of allegations of sex assaults and violence by migrants on New Year's Eve.

The city's mayor has lost confidence in Wolfgang Albers - prompting his removal by the interior minister, Ralf Jaeger:

Wolfgang Albers admitted mistakes were made in a report compiled after more than 120 New Year revellers were sexually assaulted, robbed or threatened during the city's celebrations, mostly by migrants and asylum seekers.

Germany's interior ministry spokesman Tobias Plate told a news conference that police had identified 31 people suspected of playing a role in the violence, 18 of whom were in the process of seeking asylum in Germany.

Plate said the vast majority of the 32 criminal acts documented by federal police on the night were tied to theft and bodily injury.

Three were related to sexual assaults, although police had no names tied to these acts.

He said of the 31 people questioned, nine had been Algerian, eight Moroccan, five Iranian, and four Syrian.

Two German citizens, an Iraqi, a Serb and a US citizen were also among those seen to have committed crimes during the night.

An internal police report following the violence has described how women were forced to run through mobs of drunken men.

The document, made public by German newspapers, came amid allegations that officers struggled to cope with the large crowds of disorderly revellers - as "several thousand males with a migrant background" hurled fireworks and bottles.

"Repugnant criminal acts"

It recounted how policemen were met by "anxious citizens with crying and shocked children" as numbers swelled at Cologne's main train station in the minutes before midnight.

Jens Floeren, a federal police spokesman, has confirmed the authenticity of the report - but stressed it was the "subjective assessment" of one officer who was at the scene.

Earlier in the week, interior minister Thomas de Maiziere warned that any asylum seekers who committed a serious crime "must reckon with being deported from Germany".

Meanwhile, Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a "fundamental" debate on how to integrate the 1.1 million refugees who were registered in the country last year.

She described the assaults as "repugnant criminal acts that Germany will not accept".

She added: "The feeling women had in this case of being at people's mercy, without any protection, is intolerable for me personally as well".

"We must examine again and again whether we have already done what is necessary in terms of deportations from Germany in order to send clear signals to those who are not prepared to abide by our legal order".

In Switzerland, local police have said several women were also robbed and sexually assaulted in Zurich on New Year's Eve in attacks which seemed "a little bit similar" to those reported in Cologne.

Officers in Finland have also confirmed that there were a higher-than-average number of sexual harassment complaints in Helsinki as revellers welcomed in 2016.

Officials claimed they were tipped off about groups of asylum seekers who were planning to assault women.

Swedish police say two asylum seekers are among the suspects after at least 15 women reported being groped on New Year's Eve in Kalmar.

Members of Cologne's Muslim community, including some who have lived in the city for decades, have joined other Germans in condemning the attacks.

One woman said: "Everywhere it says this has something to do with Muslims. What I read and learned in the Koran is completely different".

"I've been here for 30 years myself and I've never seen anything like this".

A German-Tunisian lawyer has described the assaults as inexcusable, but criticised the police for identifying some of the attackers as North African before making any arrests.

Mehdi Labidi said: "Germany is a tolerant country but I find this really strange that an entire ethnic group is being branded as criminals".

"If far-right extremists attack North Africans then we are going to file a criminal complaint against police for incitement".

Meanwhile, performance artist Milo Moire has taken part in a nude protest outside Cologne's Cathedral.

Demonstrating against the assaults, Ms Moire held up a poster reading "Respect us! We are not fair game, even when we are naked!!!".