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CRIME

‘Don’t allow hatred to spread’: Hundreds gather in Frankfurt to mourn child as tensions rise

Hundreds of people gathered outside Frankfurt’s main station on Tuesday to pay tribute to the eight-year-old boy who died after being pushed under a train, amid rising tensions in Germany.

‘Don't allow hatred to spread’: Hundreds gather in Frankfurt to mourn child as tensions rise
Mourners gathered outside Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof. Photo: DPA

There was a deeply sad atmosphere with some tension as a group of around 400 people – including about 50 far-right demonstrators – attended the vigil for the youngster at 6.30pm, reported German media on Wednesday.

Representatives of the Catholic and Protestant congregations in Frankfurt took part in the service – as well as railway station employees and members of the Eritrean community.

Frankfurt station's mission had invited people to pray together a day after the shocking attack on platform seven. On Monday morning shortly before 10am, a mother and her son were pushed in front of an ICE high speed train as it was arriving at the station. 

The mother was able to save herself by rolling onto a footpath between the tracks and was treated for shock. Her son was hit by the train and died at the scene. 

The sign at platform seven letting people know about Tuesday's gathering. Photo: DPA

The 40-year-old suspected perpetrator, an Eritrean-born father-of-three who lives in Switzerland, is also accused of trying to push another 78-year-old woman in front of the train but she managed to stop herself from falling onto the tracks.

German prosecutors have laid murder and attempted murder charges against the man over the attack that left eye-witnesses in need of trauma counselling and shocked the nation.

READ ALSO: Suspect accused of pushing boy under train was on the run from Swiss police

Polarized Germany

Shortly after the crime, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party quickly seized on the crime to once more criticize what it regards as the flawed immigration policies of Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

“The hideousness of this act can hardly be surpassed,” wrote the party's Alice Weidel on Twitter, demanding that the government “finally start to protect the citizens of this country”.

Many people have taken to social media to repeat this sentiment. However, others slammed the AfD for using the incident for its own political gain.

Tensions are already high in Germany following a series of horrific events in recent months, including the racist shooting of a 26-year-old Eritrean man in Hesse's Wächtersbach, as well as threats against representatives of the Left Party and against mosques in Germany.

Frankfurt Mayor Peter Feldmann speaks at the memorial. Photo: DPA

Meanwhile, also in the state of Hesse, the fatal shooting of pro-refugee CDU politician Walter Lübcke took place on June 2nd. The suspect in custody has multiple links to the far-right scene, according to prosecutors.

Police separated the two groups of mourners outside Frankfurt station. “You’re just exploiting the case,” some people called out to the far-right group, reported Spiegel’s Felix Bohr.

It was only when Carsten Baumann, the head of the Bahnhofsmission (station mission), began his service that the situation in the square in front of Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof calmed down. Baumann stood together with other pastors in front of a makeshift altar.

SEE ALSO: 'More police needed': Killing of child puts focus on security in Germany's train stations

Baumann said that a glance at social media shows what happened on Monday has divided society.

But one must not allow “hatred to spread”, he said. All thoughts should be with the parents, who “have lost everything”.

People have been laying flowers, cuddly toys, notes and candles on platform seven in memory of the youngster. On the square in front of the station, some people cried.

No motive known

For many in Germany, the crime has caused feeling of helplessness. The motive of the perpetrator is still unclear.

People hold hands at the memorial. Photo: DPA

The public prosecutor's office has no evidence that the accused was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the crime. The Swiss authorities believe the suspect may have a psychiatric disorder.

“We have to endure the ignorance,” said Baumann. “We can only stand by the side of the boy and his family.”

There were then prayers for the station employees and helpers who face difficulty in coping with what they experienced on Monday. 

A member of the Eritrean community then prayed for peace in the city. Baumann then called for a minute's silence.

Through that moment, he managed to unite the polarized crowd on the station forecourt in silent memory of the boy.

At the end, Frankfurt's Mayor Peter Feldmann stepped up to the microphone with touching words. “We cannot comprehend the pain that has hit this family, this mother,” he said.

“When suddenly there is this silence. This terrible silence, when the child is irrevocably no longer there.”

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GERMANY AND ISRAEL

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.

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