German politician stabbed in attack tied to migrant crisis

Emergency forces care for an injured person at the crime scene in Cologne, western Germany, where a candidate for mayoral election was attacked on Oct17, 2015.
Emergency forces care for an injured person at the crime scene in Cologne, western Germany, where a candidate for mayoral election was attacked on Oct17, 2015. PHOTO: AFP
Picture taken on Oct 16, 2015 shows Henriette Reker (L), a prominent candidate for the mayoral election in Cologne, campaigning in Cologne, western Germany.
Picture taken on Oct 16, 2015 shows Henriette Reker (L), a prominent candidate for the mayoral election in Cologne, campaigning in Cologne, western Germany. PHOTO: AFP

COLOGNE, German (AFP) - A German mayoral candidate active in helping refugees was seriously wounded on Saturday (Oct 17) in what police described as a stabbing with a "racist political" motive, heaping further pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel over the migrant crisis.

The German leader expressed her "shock" over the attack in the western city of Cologne which left mayoral hopeful Henriette Reker with serious neck wounds.

The stabbing comes as Merkel prepares to travel to Istanbul on Sunday for talks on the crisis with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has heaped scorn on Europe's efforts to deal with the problem so far.

She has pushed for a fairer distribution of people across the European Union, but the crisis has sorely tested ties between member states and put unprecedented strain on the right to free movement that is at the core of the 28-nation bloc's values.

Slovenia said Saturday it was drafting in the army to help police cope with an expected influx of thousands of migrants arriving after Hungary shut its border with Croatia overnight in its latest hardline move to stop the flow of people.

More than 630,000 people fleeing war and misery in the Middle East and Africa have landed on Europe's shores this year, with many making risky sea crossings from Turkey to Greece.

Highlighting the human cost of the crisis, another 12 people drowned on Saturday when their wooden boat sank off the Turkish coast as they were trying to reach the Greek island of Lesbos, Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported.

Most of the refugees and migrants are trying to get to Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, which has said it expects up to one million asylum seekers this year after saying it would open its doors to Syrian refugees.

Merkel's policy has led to growing tensions in Germany, triggering a backlash from her conservative allies and spawning a growing number of increasingly vocal far-right protests.

Reker, an independent close to Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) responsible for refugee issues in Cologne, was stabbed in the neck at a party information stand in the city.

Four other people were also injured, one of them seriously, with regional police chief Wolfgang Albers saying it was a "political act".

The attacker was arrested at the scene and told police he had "a racist motivation for committing this act," Cologne police official Norbert Wagner said at a news conference.

Merkel's approach has helped mobilise thousands of volunteers to join in the country's biggest post-war refugee relief effort, but some European peers have not approved, with Hungary's hawkish premier Victor Orban among those firing barbs at Merkel.

SLOVENIA CALLS IN TROOPS

The flood of people seeking to reach northern Europe showed no signs of abating, with thousands of migrants seeking a new route through Slovenia after Hungary's overnight border closure.

Croatia began ferrying migrants to Slovenia on Saturday, away from the Hungarian border, with more than 2,000 expected to make the journey during the day.

The tiny Alpine state has said it can handle up to 8,000 refugees crossing through on their way to Austria, which has also reinforced its border ahead of the anticipated rise in the numbers.

Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar has sent troops to the border with Croatia but said they would simply help police with logistics and equipment to deal with the new arrivals, insisting the move "does not mean there is an extraordinary situation".

Hungary's border closure came as much-hyped European Union attempts to reach a deal with Turkey ran into difficulties, with Erdogan on Friday ridiculing the bloc's efforts to help Syrian refugees and questioning whether Brussels was taking Ankara's long-standing EU membership application seriously.

"They announce they'll take in 30,000 to 40,000 refugees and then they are nominated for the Nobel for that. We are hosting two and a half million refugees but nobody cares," Erdogan said.

Most of the 300 people arriving in one Slovenian border town, Petisovci, were young men, an AFP correspondent said, adding the atmosphere appeared calm.

At the site, a large white tent had been set up to allow the Slovenian authorities carry out identity checks, before taking the migrants to one of several refugee camps, with Caroline van Buren, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, saying things were running "really smoothly".

"Unlike other countries, Slovenia had time to prepare... It's not perfect, but things are moving," she said.

The numbers expected to enter Slovenia would be a first for the country which only saw around 3,500 migrants arrive over the past month after it reinforced border controls in mid-September.