Germany to boost support for attack victims after criticism

Berlin (AFP) –


The German government said Wednesday it would ramp up support for relatives of victims of attacks, after facing accusations of insensitive handling of last year's Christmas market assault.

Several relatives of the 12 people who were killed in the December 19, 2016, truck rampage in Berlin had vented their anger in a withering open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel, accusing her of "political inaction" and of failing to reach out to the bereaved.

In a report to the government on Wednesday on the handling of the aftermath of the attack, Kurt Beck, the official charged with the inquiry, listed a litany of shortcomings.

Some relatives desperately searching for their loved ones were only told three days after the attack that their family member had perished even though they could have been given early warning through facial identification.

Others were sent "bills for autopsies -- including warnings for late payment, I didn't want to believe it, but I had such a letter in hand," Beck told a press conference.

"Such experiences should never be repeated," he said, adding that Germany "was not prepared" to deal with the aftermath of an attack.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas acknowledged the problems and said the government wanted "to ensure that when something so terrible happens, that the relatives of victims are taken care of as well as possible."

"We have learnt from our mistakes," he said.

- Centralised unit -

Berlin will look at setting up a centralised unit that would take charge of relatives in such cases, providing them with psychological and logistical help rather than leaving them to run from hospital to hospital to find out if their loved ones have been hit.

It also plans to increase financial help to victims, after Beck noted that the current sum of up to 10,000 euros ($11,700) is below the average aid provided by eight other countries including neighbouring France.

Merkel, who has been criticised by grieving relatives for not personally presenting her condolences, will finally hold her first face-to-face meeting with the families on Monday.

A day later, a memorial service will be held to commemorate the victims.

The chancellor paid an unannounced visit late Tuesday to the Christmas market at Breitschiedplatz, where she laid a white rose at the site of the attack and spoke with stallholders, including one at whose stand two people were killed in the attack.

She also exchanged a few words with another stallholder whose stand was completely destroyed, national news agency DPA reported.