German suspect in neo-Nazi migrant targeting gang found guilty of 10 killings

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Defendant Beate Zschaepe waits in a courtroom before the proclamation of sentence in her trial as the only surviving member of neo-Nazi cell National Socialist Underground (NSU) behind a string of racist murders, in Munich, Germany, on July 11, 2018. (AFP)
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People hold signs reading "end terrorism" near the regional court in Munich before the proclamation of sentence in the trial against Beate Zschaepe, the only surviving member of the neo-Nazi cell National Socialist Underground (NSU) behind a string of racist murders, in Munich, Germany, on July 11, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 11 July 2018
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German suspect in neo-Nazi migrant targeting gang found guilty of 10 killings

  • Beate Zschaepe was sentenced to life in prison for murder, membership of a terrorist organization, bomb attacks that injured dozens and several lesser crimes including a string of robberies
  • She had formed the National Socialist Underground, a group that pursued an ideology of white racial supremacy by targeting migrants, mostly of Turkish origin

MUNICH: A German court on Wednesday found the main defendant in a high-profile neo-Nazi trial guilty over the killing of 10 people — most of them migrants — who were gunned down between 2000 and 2007 in a case that shocked Germany and prompted accusations of institutional racism in the country’s security agencies.
Judges sentenced Beate Zschaepe to life in prison for murder, membership of a terrorist organization, bomb attacks that injured dozens and several lesser crimes including a string of robberies. Four men were found guilty of supporting the group in various ways and sentenced to prison terms of between 2½ and 10 years.
Presiding judge Manfred Goetzl told a packed Munich courtroom that Zschaepe’s guilt weighed particularly heavily, meaning she is likely to serve at least a 15-year sentence. Her lawyers plan to appeal the verdict.
The 43-year-old showed no emotion as Goetzl read out her sentence. A number of far-right activists attending the trial clapped when one the co-accused, Andre Eminger, received a lower sentence than expected.
Zschaepe was arrested in 2011, shortly after her two accomplices were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide. Together with the men, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, she had formed the National Socialist Underground, a group that pursued an ideology of white racial supremacy by targeting migrants, mostly of Turkish origin.
Goetzl said the trio agreed in late 1998 to kill people “for anti-Semitic or other racist motivations” in order to intimidate ethnic minorities and portray the state as impotent.
They planned to wait until they had committed a series of killings before revealing their responsibility, in order to increase the public impact of their crimes.
Goetzl said Zschaepe’s contribution was “essential for carrying out the robberies and attacks,” which couldn’t have happened without her.
Known by its acronym NSU, the group evaded arrest for almost 14 years, thanks to a network of supporters and repeated mistakes by German security agencies.
Anti-migrant sentiment that underpinned the group’s ideology was particularly strong in eastern Germany during the early 1990s, when Mundlos, Boehnhardt and Zschaepe were in their late teens and early 20s. The period saw a string of attacks against migrants and the rise of far-right parties.
Anti-racism campaigners have drawn parallels between that period and the violence directed toward asylum-seekers in Germany in recent years, which has seen the emergence of the far-right Alternative for Germany party.
The case against Zschaepe hinged heavily on the question of whether judges would hold her equally as culpable for the killings as her two dead accomplices, even though there was no evidence she had been physically present during the attacks.
Her lawyers sought to portray Zschaepe as a naive woman who played no active role in the killings, bomb attacks and bank robberies committed by Mundlos and Boehnhardt. Zschaepe rarely spoke during the five-year trial, refusing to answer questions from lawyers representing the victims’ families. Toward the end, she expressed regret for the families’ loss and described herself as “morally guilty” but urged the court not to convict her “for something that I neither wanted nor did.”
The NSU case has already become a firm part of German popular culture, serving as the basis for books, a Golden Globe-winning film and a Netflix series.
Still, Barbara John, the government’s ombudswoman for the victims’ families, said many in Germany don’t want to know the details of the case.
“That’s true, too, for immigrants who want to protect themselves psychologically from the knowledge that they live in a country which couldn’t protect them,” she told The Associated Press.
Speaking ahead of the verdict, John said the trial could help send a signal not just to far-right extremists but also to the country’s security agencies, which for years failed to consider a possible far-right motive in the 10 killings and two bomb attacks that took place across the country. Instead, police focused on whether the victims had ties to organized crime — a line of investigation for which there was never any evidence.
Germany’s interior minister, Horst Seehofer, welcomed the verdict and said that “the crimes should be a lesson and a task for us to fight far right extremism in Germany with all means needed, preventively and repressively, in the future as well.”
Families of the victims said Tuesday that the suspicion directed toward their loved-ones shook their faith in the German justice system.
“The investigation went in the wrong direction, not due to the failure of individuals but due to institutional racism,” said Alexander Hoffmann, a lawyer representing victims of a 2004 bomb attack in Cologne.
He urged federal prosecutors to continue investigating the NSU’s wider network of supporters, believed to be much broader than the four men on trial with Zschaepe.
John, the ombudswoman, said there are encouraging signs that police and intelligence agencies are beginning to listen to minorities and make an effort to recruit them, ending the long-maintained illusion that Germany isn’t a country of immigrants.
“One big question remains: Do we in Germany really want to know why and how the NSU murders occurred?” she said. “If that were the case, the work of politicians and civil society needs to continue.”


French police clear fuel protesters as movement wanes

Updated 50 min 56 sec ago
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French police clear fuel protesters as movement wanes

PARIS: French police cleared demonstrators blocking roads and fuel depots Tuesday in a crackdown on the so-called "yellow vest" protests against President Emmanuel Macron that have left two people dead.
Hundreds of thousands of people blockaded roads across France on the weekend, wearing high-visibility yellow vests in a national wave of defiance aimed at 40-year-old centrist Macron.
The protests had waned by Tuesday but the disruption underlined the anger and frustration felt by many motorists, particularly in rural areas or small towns, fed up with what they see as the government's anti-car policies, including tax hikes on diesel.
Macron, who has made a point of not backing down in the face of public pressure during his time in office, called Tuesday for more "dialogue" to better explain his policies.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, meanwhile, urged ruling Republic On The Move lawmakers to stand firm in the face of voter criticism, saying the party would reap the rewards of its "constancy and determination".
Two people have been accidentally killed and 530 people injured, 17 seriously, over four days of protests that have come to encompass a wide variety of grievances over the rising cost of living.
A 37-year-old motorcyclist died Tuesday from injuries sustained a day earlier after being hit by a truck making a u-turn to avoid a roadblock in the southeast Drome region, a judicial source said.
The other victim was a 63-year-old woman accidently killed by a panicked driver in the eastern Savoie region on the first day of protests.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has instructed police to break up the remaining roadblocks, particularly those around fuel depots and sites of strategic importance.
"We can see today that there are real excesses from a movement that was for the most part conducted in good spirit on Saturday," he told France 2 TV.
The ministry said about 20 "strategic" sites and fuel depots in several regions were cleared of protesters Tuesday.
Some hardliners kept blockades and slowdowns at some tolls, motorway junctions, and roundabouts.
"The movement won't run out of steam," said Olivier Garrigues, a farmworker at one protest in the south. "There are less people because everyone is working. But we are organised."
Several of the injuries were caused by motorists trying to force their way through roadblocks, but some protesters have also been accused of intimidating and endangering motorists.
A 32-year-old man with a history of violence was given a four-month prison sentence by a Strasbourg court for putting lives at risk by taking part in a human chain across a motorway.
Protests have also erupted in Reunion, a French overseas territory island in the Indian Ocean, where authorities introduced a partial curfew in some neighbourhoods after a night of violence.
AFP judicial sources Tuesday denied media reports that a group of men arrested earlier this month in the city of Saint-Etienne on suspicion of plotting an attack had planned to strike during Saturday's fuel protests.
On Tuesday, the "yellow vests" appeared to be losing steam, with only a fraction of the nearly 300,000 people that manned the barricades on Saturday still camped out in the bitter cold.
Further protests are planned for the weekend, with some calling for a blockade of Paris.
The grassroots movement, which has won backing from opposition parties on both the left and right as well as a majority of respondents in opinion polls, accuses Macron of squeezing the less well-off while reducing taxes for the rich.
"It's about much more than fuel. They (the government) have left us with nothing," Dominique, a 50-year-old unemployed technician told AFP at a roadblock in the town of Martigues, near the southern city of Marseille.
Macron's government, trying to improve its environmental credentials, has vowed not to back down on trying to wean people off their cars through fuel taxes.
The government has unveiled a 500-million-euro package of measures to help low-income households, including energy subsidies and higher scrappage bonuses for the purchase of cleaner vehicles.