Germans shaken by New Year robberies, sexual attacks on women

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German Women Report String of Sex Attacks in Cologne

BERLIN, Jan 5 (Reuters) - About 90 women have reported being robbed, threatened or sexually molested at New Year celebrations outside Cologne's cathedral by young, mostly drunk, men, police said on Tuesday, in events they have described as 'a new dimension in crime'.

Cologne police chief Wolfgang Albers told a news conference officers described the men as looking as if they were from "the Arab or North African region" and mostly between 18 and 35 years old. "We have one complaint that represents a rape," he added.

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Integration commissioner Aydan Ozoguz warned against putting foreigners and refugees, hundreds of thousands of whom have entered Germany largely from Middle Eastern war zones, under "blanket suspicion."

Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed shock over the attacks that police said occurred when about 1,000 men split into gangs as officers cleared a square to stop fireworks being thrown from the top of steps into the crowd below.

While politicians also urged people not to become wary of all refugees, the incident fueled calls from right-wing groups to stop letting in migrants.

See photos of New Years Eve in Germany:

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Germans shaken by New Year robberies, sexual attacks on women
A woman protests against sexism outside the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2016. Poster reads " Mrs. Merkel. Where are you? What do you say? It's scary". German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced outrage Tuesday at a series of sexual assaults in the western city of Cologne on New Year's Eve, saying the perpetrators need to be found as soon as possible. Merkel called Cologne's mayor Henriette Reker to express her concern about the assaults, which took place around Cologne's main train station, next to the city's famous cathedral. (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)
Cologne mayor Henriette Reker , left, and the head of Cologne's police, Wolfgang Albers, attend a news conference in Cologne, western Germany, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2016. The mayor of Cologne condemned a series of sexual assaults in the western German city on New Year's Eve, calling Tuesday for the perpetrators to be "prosecuted in the toughest possible way." Police say dozens of women reported being sexually assaulted and robbed around Cologne's main train station, next to the city's famous cathedral, during the night from Thursday to Friday. At least 90 criminal complaints have been filed, including one allegation of rape. ( Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)
Cologne mayor Henriette Reker attends a news conference in Cologne, western Germany, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2016. The mayor of Cologne condemned a series of sexual assaults in the western German city on New Year's Eve, calling Tuesday for the perpetrators to be "prosecuted in the toughest possible way." Police say dozens of women reported being sexually assaulted and robbed around Cologne's main train station, next to the city's famous cathedral, during the night from Thursday to Friday. At least 90 criminal complaints have been filed, including one allegation of rape. ( Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)
Cologne mayor Henriette Reker attends a news conference in Cologne, western Germany, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2016. The mayor of Cologne condemned a series of sexual assaults in the western German city on New Year's Eve, calling Tuesday for the perpetrators to be "prosecuted in the toughest possible way." Police say dozens of women reported being sexually assaulted and robbed around Cologne's main train station, next to the city's famous cathedral, during the night from Thursday to Friday. At least 90 criminal complaints have been filed, including one allegation of rape. ( Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas delivers remarks on the assaults in Cologne, Germany, on New Year's Eve, in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2016. Heiko Maas called for the perpetrators to be held to account, saying the attacks were "cowardly and vile." Officials in Cologne are holding crisis meeting following a series of sex assaults in the western German city on New Year's Eve. Mayor Henriette Reker called Tuesday's meeting to discuss the police response to the assaults that occurred around Cologne's main train station during the night. (Britta Pedersen/dpa via AP)
People walk past the central railway station in Cologne, Germany, Tuesday Jan. 5, 2016. City officials and police in Cologne are holding a crisis meeting following a series of sex assaults in the western German city on New Year's Eve. Mayor Henriette Reker called Tuesday's meeting to discuss the police response to the assaults that occurred around Cologne's main train station, next to the city's famous cathedral, during the night. (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)
A police car passes the central railway station in Cologne, Germany Tuesday Jan. 5, 2016. City officials and police in Cologne are holding a crisis meeting following a series of sex assaults in the western German city on New Year's Eve. Mayor Henriette Reker called Tuesday's meeting to discuss the police response to the assaults that occurred around Cologne's main train station, next to the city's famous cathedral, during the night. (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP)
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Germany took in just over a million last year, far more than any other European country.

Cologne mayor Henriette Reker said it was "unbelievable and intolerable what happened on New Year's Eve" but there was no reason to believe those involved in the attacks were refugees.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas said Germany would not accept such attacks which he described as "a new scale of organized crime."

Around 150 people gathered in front of Cologne's cathedral on Tuesday evening to protest against violence against women. One of them held a sign saying: "Ms Merkel where are you? What do you say? This scares us!"

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"TOUGH RESPONSE"

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has gained in polls in part at Merkel's expense thanks to a campaign against refugees, said she should close the border.

"Mrs Merkel, is Germany 'colorful and cosmopolitan' enough for you after the wave of crimes and sexual attacks?" tweeted AfD chief Frauke Petry.

Merkel told Reker in a phone call the attacks deserved a tough response.

"Everything must be done to investigate those responsible as quickly and completely as possible and punish them, regardless of where they are from," she said, according to her spokesman.

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There are almost daily attacks on refugee shelters.

"Events like that in Cologne foster xenophobia," said Roland Schaefer, head of Germany's association of towns and localities.

After a crisis meeting, Cologne mayor Reker said new steps would be taken to avoid a repeat, including increasing police numbers at big events and installing more security cameras.

She stressed that women must feel safe at traditional carnival celebrations next month when the city closes down for five days of drunken street parades and parties.

Reker was stabbed in the neck and seriously hurt in October, just a day before she was elected mayor. Police said that attack appeared to be motivated by her support for refugees. (Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr and Matthias Sobolewski in Berlin and Andreas Kranz in Cologne; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

RELATED: See photos of how people celebrated New Years around the world

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Germans shaken by New Year robberies, sexual attacks on women
Fireworks light the sky over Copacabana beach during New Year's Eve celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Mauro Pimentel)
Fireworks light up the sky over the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the city skyline as part of New Year's Eve celebrations Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Carrie Underwood performs at the Times Square New Year's Eve celebration on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
Rock band the Kings of Leon help ring in the first few notes of 2016 at the Jack Daniel's New Year's Eve Bash on Broadway on Friday, Jan. 1, 2016 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Laura Roberts/Invision/AP)
An Egyptian soldier photographs fireworks on New Year's Eve at the Giza Pyramids near Cairo, Egypt at midnight on Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
The clock strikes midnight at the Times Square New Year's Eve celebration on Dec. 31, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
A couple of women hug as fireworks light the sky over Copacabana beach during New Year's Eve celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Mauro Pimentel)
Fireworks explode over the River Thames and the Palace of Westminster's Elizabeth Tower, known as Big Ben, during the New Years Day celebrations in London, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Confetti flies over New York's Times Square after the clock strikes midnight during the New Year's Eve celebration as seen from the New York Marriott Marquis hotel, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
The 2016 appears during the 5-minute video performance displayed on the Arc de Triomphe as part of New Year's Eve celebrations on the Champs Elysees Avenue in Paris, France, France, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Fireworks light up the sky over the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the city skyline as part of New Year's Eve celebrations Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
People watch from the The Cosmopolitan hotel and casino as fireworks explode during New Year's celebrations Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Lynde Barton, of Salt Lake City, celebrates while awaiting the arrival of the new year at Times Square, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Fireworks light up the sky in downtown Skopje, Macedonia, during the celebrations of the New Year early Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
Fireworks light the sky above the Royal Castle during the New Year's Eve celebrations in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
People gather to celebrate the New Year in the square in front of the St. Michael Cathedral in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, shortly after midnight Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
People watch from the The Cosmopolitan hotel and casino as fireworks explode during New Year's Eve celebrations Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Fireworks explode in front of Malaysia's landmark building, Petronas Twin Towers, during the New Year's Eve celebration in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Joshua Paul)
Fireworks light the sky above the Brandenburg Gate shortly after midnight in Berlin, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. Hundred of thousands of people gathered for the New Year celebrations at the area around the Brandenburg Gate in the German capital. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Fireworks explode over the temple of the Parthenon at the Acropolis hill during the New Year celebrations in Athens, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis )
The moon is visible above on New Year's Eve at the Giza Pyramids near Cairo, Egypt at midnight on Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Fireworks explode over the Opera House and Harbour Bridge during New Year's Eve fireworks display in Sydney, Australian, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016.(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
Fireworks light the sky above the Cathedral Square in Vilnius, Lithuania shortly after midnight during the New Year celebrations, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016. Thousands of people celebrated the beginning of the New Year 2016 in the Lithuanian capital. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
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