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Cologne police chief relieved of duties after New Year’s Eve violence

Henning Kaiser, dpa, AFP | Cologne's police chief Wolfgang Albers during a press conference in Cologne on June 23, 2015

Cologne’s police chief has been relieved of his duties following sharp criticism over his handling of a string of assaults and robberies during New Year's Eve festivities in the western German city, regional authorities said on Friday.

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Wolfgang Albers, 60, was put into retirement according to North Rhine-Westphalia state's interior minister, Ralf Jaeger.

"My decision is necessary in order to regain public confidence in the Cologne police force's ability to act, particularly in view of upcoming major events," Jaeger said in a statement.

More than 120 women are reported to have been robbed, threatened or sexually molested by gangs of men as revellers partied near Cologne’s twin-spired Gothic Cathedral on New Year’s Eve.

The attacks were carried out despite a heavy police deployment, and officers have admitted they did not realise the scale of what was happening.

With the extent of the assaults only coming to light on Monday, three days after the attacks, police have also been accused of hushing up the cases.

Albers had initially dismissed calls for his resignation but has come under heavy fire, including from Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who has said that "the police cannot work in this way".

Germany's journalists union also issued a statement Friday accusing Albers of issuing inaccurate information over the assaults.

'More information has come forth on mismanagement of police force'

Thirty-one suspects, including 18 asylum seekers, have been taken in for questioning for a series of offences, ranging from theft to assault, according to Interior Ministry Spokesman Tobias Plate.

“As of yesterday, the federal police had determined there were 32 criminal acts on the night, with 31 suspects whose names are known,” Plate said on Friday. “Eighteen had asylum-seeker status.”

Plate said most of the 32 criminal acts were tied to theft and bodily injury. Three were related to sexual assaults, and police had not yet identified suspects for these attacks.

Of the 31 suspects, nine were Algerian, eight Moroccan, five Iranian, and four Syrian. Two German citizens, an Iraqi, a Serb and a US citizen were also among those suspected of having committed crimes.

Plate did not say if any of the 31 had been charged. “The investigations are ongoing,” he added.

The assaults have increased pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, stoking fierce debate over her refugee policy.

Nearly 1.1 million people were registered as asylum seekers in Germany last year, 428,468 of whom are from Syria, according to the interior ministry.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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