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Scale of Cologne New Year attacks grows as more than 600 complaints filed

Attacks on women in Cologne and other German cities on New Year's Eve have prompted more than 600 criminal complaints, with police suspicion resting on asylum seekers, putting pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel and her open-door migrant policy.

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Cologne police overwhelmed at New Years assault

More than 100 women have now filed criminal complaints of sexual assault after police failed to prevent mass-scale violence at New Year celebrations in Cologne, Germany.

The attacks, mostly targeting women and ranging from theft to sexual molestation, have prompted a highly charged debate in Germany about its welcoming stance for refugees and migrants, more than 1 million of whom arrived in 2015.

The sudden nature of the violent attacks and the fact they stretched from Hamburg to Frankfurt prompted German Justice Minister Heiko Maas to speculate they had been planned or co-ordinated. 

"When such a horde meets to commit crimes, it seems to have been planned in some way. Nobody can tell me that it wasn't coordinated or pre-prepared," he said.

The debate on migration will be further fuelled by the acknowledgment by the authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia that a man shot dead as he tried to enter a Paris police station last week was an asylum seeker with seven identities who lived in Germany.

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In Cologne, police said on Sunday that 516 criminal complaints had been filed by individuals or groups in relation to assaults on New Year's Eve, while police in Hamburg said 133 similar charges had been lodged with the north German city.

Frankfurt also registered complaints, although far fewer.

The investigation in Cologne was focused largely on asylum seekers or illegal migrants from north Africa, police said. They arrested a 19-year-old Moroccan man on Saturday.

In Cologne, where a 100-strong force of officers continued their investigations, about 40 per cent of the complaints included sexual offences, including two rapes.

The attacks, which prompted violent far-right protests on Saturday, threatens to further erode confidence in Mrs Merkel, and could stoke support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party ahead of three key state elections in March.

Mrs Merkel's popularity has dwindled as she refused to limit the influx of refugees.

A survey sponsored by state broadcaster ARD showed that while 75 per cent of those asked were very happy with Ms Merkel's work in April 2015, only 58 per cent were pleased now.

Almost three-quarters of those polled said migration was the most important issue for the government to deal with in 2016.

The Cologne attacks also heated up the debate on immigration in neighbouring Austria.

"What happened in Cologne is unbelievable and unacceptable," Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, a member of the conservative People's Party that is junior coalition partner to the Social Democrats, told the newspaper Oesterreich.

There had been a handful of similar incidents in the border city of Salzburg.

"Such offenders should be deported," she said, backing a similar suggestion by Mrs Merkel.

Swiss media contained numerous stories about sexual assaults on women by foreigners, fuelling tensions ahead of a referendum in February that would trigger the automatic deportation of foreigners convicted of some crimes.

In Germany on Monday, a regional parliamentary commission will quiz police and others about the events on New Year's Eve in Cologne.

The anti-Islam PEGIDA, whose supporters threw bottles and fire crackers at a march in Cologne on Saturday before being dispersed by riot police, will later hold a rally in the eastern German city of Leipzig.

The far-right will likely seize on reports that the Paris attacker, who was shot last week as he wielded a meat cleaver and shouted "Allahu akbar" (God is greatest), was known to police for drug dealing and harassing women.

He had an apartment in an accommodation centre for asylum seekers in Recklinghausen, north of Cologne.

A German newspaper, Welt am Sonntag, reported the man had painted the symbol of Islamic State on the wall of his flat and had been registered multiple times in Germany under fake names and many nationalities from Syrian to Moroccan.

Reuters

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