Pro-refugee candidate elected Cologne mayor after knife attack

Politician Henriette Reker suffered serious stab wounds to the neck during an assault on Saturday in Cologne, Germany.
Politician Henriette Reker suffered serious stab wounds to the neck during an assault on Saturday in Cologne, Germany.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BERLIN • A German city official, who was stabbed in the neck in an attack apparently over her work with refugees, was elected the first female mayor of the western city of Cologne.

Ms Henriette Reker, who was in stable condition in hospital after being seriously injured in Saturday's assault, has become the most prominent victim of a growing backlash against a huge influx of migrants into Germany.

Standing as an independent, though close to the ruling Christian Democrats of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the 58-year-old had been the front runner to enter town hall, and final results on Sunday gave her a clear win with 52.6 per cent of the vote.

"Victory! We are delighted for Henriette Reker," her campaign team said in a tweet, calling her win "a new start for Cologne".

Trailing in second place was Mr Jochen Ott of the centre-left Social Democrats.

Ms Reker, a lawyer, was largely unknown at the national level before she was attacked by a 44-year-old man wielding two knives while campaigning at a street market. Four others were also injured. Ms Reker is expected to make a full recovery.

The crime sparked nationwide outrage, with Dr Merkel expressing shock at the incident and police calling it a "racist" and "political" act.

For the past five years, Ms Reker has been responsible for running refugee services in Cologne, Germany's fourth-largest city with 980,000 inhabitants.

The attack came as Germany is struggling to cope with a record number of asylum-seekers after Dr Merkel said the country would open its doors to Syrian refugees.

While many Germans have welcomed the refugees, Dr Merkel's stance has provoked a backlash among her conservative allies and sparked protests among the far-right.

The alleged attacker in the stabbing - identified by German media only as Frank S., an unemployed house painter - has been detained on charges of attempted murder and causing grievous bodily harm.

Police said the suspect, arrested at the scene of the crime, had voiced "xenophobic sentiments".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2015, with the headline 'Pro-refugee candidate elected Cologne mayor after knife attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe