The German city of Frankfurt woke up to burning cars, clashes between protesters and the police, and blockaded roads this Wednesday. An estimated 10,000 protesters are expected to show up there today to march against European Central Bank (ECB) measures that they condemn as "austerity policies."
The demonstrations, which started at 5am local time, coincided with the official opening of the 1.3-billion euro ($1.4-billion) new ECB headquarters. The ceremony began at 10am in the Frankfurt neighborhood of Ostend under heavy police protection. ECB president, Mario Draghi, gave an inaugural speech, where he defended the bank before stating: "We must listen very carefully to what all our citizens are saying."
Outside, meanwhile, stones were being hurled, protesters arrested, and seven police cars set alight. According to reports, 94 officers have been wounded, over 100 protesters injured, and 550 people have been detained.
Since early morning, hundreds of protestors tried to obstruct the ECB's entrance in order to disrupt the arrival of officials at the ceremony. The rally, organized by a group called Blockupy, is composed of activists from scores of different protest groups, unions, and political parties from around Europe. About 8,000 policemen have been deployed, armed with water cannons and helicopters. As a preventive measure, the ECB's headquarters were also protected with barbed wire.
VICE News reporter Penelope de la Iglesia could see smoke rising over Frankfurt as soon as she arrived this morning, and found the atmosphere in the city tense, with scattered episodes of violence.
Facing a massive police presence, demonstrators erected blockades on the way to the new ECB offices. Protesters said that their efforts on the ground were rather successful, considering the number of helicopters flying officials to the opening ceremony.
AFP reported cobblestones were thrown at the city hall, smashing several first-floor windows, and clashes between the police and anti-austerity demonstrators occurred near Frankfurt's Alte Oper concert hall. Tires, trashcans, and vehicles — including police cars — were set alight by protestors. The police also said that demonstrators managed to block a bridge as well as some of the city's main roads.
The demonstration was mostly peaceful, while the more radical members threw rocks at police forces. The protesters themselves were regularly charged by police with teargas bombs and batons, leaving several with bloody faces.
Live from the demonstrations near the ECB (Russia Today footage)
Around 11am local time, protesters were slowly heading toward the center of the city, chanting slogans such as "Anticapitalista" and "To Wall Street."
A gathering of protesters is also scheduled to take place around 2pm in the historic center of Frankfurt and a march starting at 4pm will follow. Both events are overseen by Blockupy. According to the group, 60 buses from 39 European cities arrived in Frankfurt on Tuesday and a train filled with 800 anti-austerity demonstrators traveled from Berlin. Blockupy expects 7,000 German protesters to be joined by 3,000 protesters from all over Europe to join the protests.
Special envoys from the anti-austerity parties of Syriza party (of new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras) and Spain's Podemos were also expected to take part.
One of Blockupy's organizers, Ulrich Wilken, told Reuters: "The main reason for the protest is that the ECB is in the troika and the troika is responsible for the austerity policies that have pushed so many into poverty." This troika refers to the trio of the ECB, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund.
"They are not democratically elected, yet they push governments into taking action all the time," said Wilken. The anti-capitalist collective's reported objective is to "build democracy and solidarity from bottom to the top," and it has firmly condemned the budget restrictions imposed on Greece by the "troika" since 2010.
The new ECB headquarters is formed of two new 600-feet high twin towers, located on the River Main. Its 2,600 employees settled in their new offices last November, but around 100 officials were invited to the unveiling ceremony this morning — including 20 high-profile personalities such as former ECB president, Jean-Claude Trichet, the mayor of Frankfurt mayor and Jörg Asmussen (a former ECB board member who is now a German government minister).
Few journalists were allowed on site at the new HQ unveiling and ECB employees were asked to work from home or to come dressed casually to avoid being targeted by protesters.
Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray