Blockade of German minister’s ferry sparks concerns over political violence

Blockade of German minister’s ferry sparks concerns over political violence
Blockade of German minister’s ferry sparks concerns over political violence

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - German Minister of Economics and Climate Protection Robert Habeck waits for the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin on October 4, 2023. Around thirty farmers opposed to the phasing out of a tax concession on diesel fuel, have prevented a ferry carrying Robert Habeck, who had just spent his holidays on Hallig Hooge, a tourist island in the North Sea, from docking, a police spokesman told AFP today. — AFP pic

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BERLIN, Jan 5 — German Economy Minister Robert Habeck expressed concern about violent protests today after a crowd of demonstrating farmers blocked him from disembarking from a ferry and tried to storm the vessel in a row over subsidy cuts.

“What worries me is that the mood in this country is heating up so much,” said Habeck in a statement. “As a minister, I have the protection of the police. Many, many others have to fend off attacks on their own and cannot share their uncertainty,” he added.

Video of the blockade on social media showed dozens of demonstrators in yellow vests crowding the pier in northern Germany where a ferry carrying Habeck back from an island vacation was trying to dock as police tried to pull them back.

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The blockade by around 250-300 protesters was sparked by plans to phase out agricultural subsidies as the government scrambles to fix its finances after a court ruling in November threw its spending plans into disarray.

It comes at a time when the German authorities have expressed concerns about the rising power of far-right politics and political extremism.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said the incident brought back memories of the death of Walter Luebcke, a pro-immigration politician who was murdered by a right-wing extremist in 2019.

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“We should never forget where political aggression can lead,” she told the Funke Media Group on Friday.

The incident came before the burial on Friday of former finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who survived an assassination attempt in 1990.

Habeck said he was unable to talk with the demonstrating farmers, and the ferry was forced to turn around. Police said around 25-30 tried to board the ferry and were repelled by officers using pepper spray.

“Protesting in Germany is a valuable asset. Coercion and violence destroy this good,” Habeck said.

According to an economy ministry spokesperson, Habeck is currently at home in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein.

The German Farmers’ Association distanced itself from the blockade but said it was sticking with plans for more demonstrations next week in a push to keep the subsidies.

A chorus of German leaders joined Chancellor Olaf Scholz in condemning the blockade, with Agriculture Minister Cem Ozdemir, also a member of Habeck’s Greens, saying the demonstrators did not care about the issue but only had “wet dreams of upheaval.”

Ozdemir said the government would press on with the subsidy cuts despite the protests. The government on Thursday diluted plans for the cuts but farmers say this does not go far enough.

“The blockade of Federal Minister Habeck’s arrival at a ferry harbour today is shameful and violates the rules of democratic coexistence,” wrote government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit on social media platform X shortly after midnight.

Hendrik Wuest, of the opposition Christian Democrats, said the protesters overstepped boundaries and harmed what he said were the farmers’ legitimate concerns, which he also shares. — Reuters

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