350 Arrested as Frankfurt Anti-Austerity Protests Turn Violent

A policeman stops a 'Blockupy' anti-capitalist protester near the European Central Bank (ECB) building before the official opening of its new headquarters in Frankfurt March 18, 2015. Kai Pfaffenbach/REUTERS

German police have arrested 350 people, as thousands of protesters descended on Frankfurt today to demonstrate against capitalism and austerity measures.

10,000 protesters took to the streets but as clashes with police intensified, violence erupted leading to hundreds being detained. German police have said that 14 officers and 21 demonstrators have been hurt, while 16 people have been charged with disturbing the peace or arson.

The organisers behind the protest, Blockupy, an alliance of 90 activists groups including the second-largest German labor union, Ver.di, and Syriza, the ruling political party in Greece, focused their protests on the opening ceremony of the new headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

The European Central Bank is one of Greece's main creditors, part of the so-called troika supervising the Greek bailout programme, along with the International Monetary Fund and European Commission.

As thousands of protesters took to the streets this morning they were met by a similar number of security forces. Local schools were closed and trams stopped running in anticipation of the day's events.

Several police cars and bins were set on fire and pictures showed thick plumes of brown smoke over the Frankfurt skyline this morning. Police deployed water canon and pepper spray, and footage appeared to show some officers beating protesters.

Frankfurt almost looks like a war scene on the day of the opening of new ECB headquarters.Massive protests. #Blockupy pic.twitter.com/ruMtfI3rUe

— Laura Moore (@alauraschneider) March 18, 2015

According to the Blockupy Twitter feed, protesters scaled a skyscraper near to the new ECB headquarters to unfurl a banner, reading 'capitalism kills' in German.

The group have pinpointed Germany as their worst offender in terms of implementing austerity measures, and warned that the protests will spread across the continent. "We think that Germany is the main country pushing for austerity, and that the German government is the main hardliner within the European Union," a spokesperson for Blockupy says. "The protests are widening and will grow stronger all over Europe, particularly in the southern countries and in Spain."

The group are holding a meeting within the next few weeks to plan their next protest, but say they will definitely be present at the next "important political moment".

"This is an expression of anger," says Sol Trumbo Vila, who facilitates the international coordination of Blockupy. "There is anger at the way in which European policies are affecting European citizens."

A spokesperson for Blockupy confirmed that there has been some Greek participation in the protests, with around 100 Greek protesters in total, although the main international protesters came from Italy, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Austria.

Anti-capitalist 'Blockupy' protesters run on a street near the European Central Bank (ECB) building before the official opening of its new headquarters in Frankfurt March 18, 2015. Michael Dalder/REUTERS

"We are glad that we were able to gather this movement today," Trumbo Vila continues. "The turnout was very positive. Unfortunately some tactics were deployed today that were not part of the Blockupy consensus," he says, referring to the acts of violence perpetrated by a minority of protesters.

But Trumbo Vila also condemned the police. "There has been a strong determination to suppress the protests," he says.

Trumbo Vila says that Blockupy is campaigning against what the movement describes as "the EU crisis regime", austerity measures, and the cost of the new ECB building, which totalled €1.3bn (£930m). "A party was held, but we believe there is nothing to celebrate, that is why we chose to mobilise," says Trumbo Vila.

ECB president Mario Draghi defended the bank, saying at the inauguration of the new building: "As an EU institution that has played a central role throughout the crisis, the ECB has become a focal point for those frustrated with this situation. This may not be a fair charge — our action has been aimed precisely at cushioning the shocks suffered by the economy."

"Eurozone's problems haven't gone away at all," says George Barda, a social justice campaigner for Occupy, a group loosely affiliated with Blockupy. "We have a major problem with huge concentrations of wealth and power in a small minority of people, which is having a negative effect on people's lives and making economies unstable. More unequal societies are more unstable.The point about austerity is that it's the path to catastrophe."