As Angela Merkel welcomed the leaders of the most powerful countries on the planet to Hamburg on Friday, security services in Germany’s second-largest city are on high alert after violent clashes with anti-capitalist protesters Thursday night left over 100 police officers injured. Up to 100,000 protesters are expected to arrive at the site of the G-20 summit over the next couple of days.
German Chancellor Merkel and world leaders including Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Emmanuel Macron, and Theresa May seek to tackle topics like free trade, terrorism, climate change and migration, but protesters have planned huge marches through the streets to voice their opposition to the G-20, which they say has failed to solve the biggest issues facing the planet.
Because of the protests, first lady Melania Trump was unable to attend a meeting of leaders’ spouses Friday. “We have no security clearance from the police to leave the guest house,” a spokeswoman told German news agency DPA.
Many leaders have been holed up in their hotel rooms, unable to get to meetings because of action on the streets.
On Friday morning, activists resumed their actions across the city, and while the summit began without incident, police are already calling for major reinforcements from other parts of the city. The Hamburg police reported that a signal flare was fired at one of their helicopters this morning and only narrowly missed.
Protestors are also burning cars and setting off smoke bombs around the city as fears grow that the violence seen Thursday night will escalate.
Protesters organized the “Welcome to Hell” march on the eve of the two-day summit, with an estimated crowd of 12,000 people gathering by the historic harbour area – the start of a route that was to take them toward the venue where the G-20 summit will be held.
However, within 300 meters, the protest was halted by armed police cars blocking the route. During an hourlong standoff, protesters chanted and waved banners. When police asked one group of activists — known as the “black bloc” — to remove their masks, they were reportedly attacked with bottles and stones.
The police responded with water cannons and pepper spray in a bid to separate the group of masked protesters from the rest of the crowd, which was largely peaceful. After the protest was broken up, German media said, skirmishes broke out at different points in the city, with reports of cars being damaged, stores vandalized, and barricades erected from fences and bins.
Police are also investigating if a fire overnight at a luxury Porsche car dealership in the north of the city, which damaged eight vehicles, was linked to the protests — in what could be a worrying foretaste of what’s to come. Police said they were “horrified by the violence.”
The German police said at least 111 officers were injured in the attack, though most received only minor injuries. Three policemen had to receive treatment in hospital, including a helicopter pilot who was injured when laser pointers were directed at him.
About 20,000 police officers were due on duty to watch over the main demonstration, but that number is likely to rise in the coming days, with two major marches planned for Saturday expected to draw crowds of up to 100,000 people. Protesters from across Europe are flocking to Hamburg to highlight inequality and economic greed.
The protesters have a variety of issues they want addressed by the world’s leaders, including calls for better environmental protection, denunciations of ethnic nationalism, and opposition to free trade — ironically, a viewpoint they share with Trump.
One German protester said he hoped the demonstrations would bring about more economic equality. “I’m not anti-government, but something has to change so human beings get to enjoy a little bit of the wealth,” Sebastian Keller, who grew up in east Germany and was 8 years old when the country was reunified, told the Washington Post.
Thursday’s violent clashes will not be the images Merkel wants Germans to focus on this week, as she seeks to use the summit as an opportunity to demonstrate her ability on the world stage, ahead of her re-election bid in September.