All nine victims of the Feb. 3 fire in the southwestern German city of Ludwigshafen were of Turkish descent. While the cause of the blaze has yet to be determined, fears are rampant in Germany and Turkey that it may have been caused by an arson with a neo-Nazi background. In recent years, extreme right-wing attacks on foreigners living in Germany have, unfortunately, not been uncommon.
But the presence of Turkish investigators on the scene in Ludwigshafen with their German counterparts is fostering an impression of shared concern for an accurate investigation.
Adding to the gravity, Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is expected to visit the site of the fire on Thursday afternoon, flanked by the Kurt Beck of the center-left Social Democrats, who is the party's national leader and also the governor of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate where Ludwigshafen is located.
Placing Sunday's tragedy in the perspective of xenophobic attacks on foreigners in Germany that have occurred in recent years -- including the deadly 1993 arson incident in Solingen that left five residents of Turkish origin dead -- German newspapers on Thursday praise the transparency that has featured prominently in the police investigation so far.
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"It's a good thing that the police in Rhineland-Palatinate are getting support from their Turkish colleagues. By working together, they can counter the impression that German police will not take any possible evidence of arson seriously."
"This impression has its roots in the 1990s, when a murderous arson attack in the city of Solingen was met with ignorance and then indiscretion by political authorities. The racist motives behind the attack, predated by xenophobic assaults in Mölln, Rostock, and Cottbus, were later downplayed. Chancellor Helmut Kohl then declined to offer his condolences to the victims' relatives. This severely damaged German-Turkish relations. Now the German side has the opportunity to regain the Turks' trust."
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"Children said they saw a 'German-looking' man in the hallway start the fire (Editors: Police are investigating claims made by two girls, ages 8 and 9, that they saw man light fire to an object and place it in a baby carriage in the hallway of the building). And the house, inhabited exclusively by Turks, had already been the target of a previous attack. So is the latest attack the arson work of German neo-Nazis?"
"Authorities have been dealing with this delicate situation in an exemplary way. As German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has candidly stated, there has been an atmosphere of deep distrust over the fire amongst Turkish officials."
"This is understandable, particularly as Germany has often tried to play down xenophobic violence in the past. In this case, though, they are doing exactly the opposite. Extreme-right racist motives for the blaze have not been ruled out, and neither has an accidental cause. It is not (yet) known if the fire was started by xenophobes. And this sober approach is not only good to see -- it should also continue throughout the investigation."
"In order to head off any mistrust, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaüble invited Turkish criminal investigators to Ludwigshafen. That's smart -- not only to avoid tensions during the current visit by the Turkish prime minister. Later, it will also increase the credibility of the investigation's ultimate findings -- at least if German and Turkish police investigators are both able to keep themselves from being overly influenced by politics or the media."
The daily Der Tagesspiegel writes:
"Who can blame the government in Ankara for doubting the first police reports that there was no evidence of arson? And what about what the little Turkish girl said about seeing a suspect in the hallway before the fire started? It's a sign of reasonableness and humanity that German authorities fulfilled Erdogan's request to allow Turkish experts to partake in the investigation. It's not about sowing seeds of doubt about the objectivity of the investigation, but rather about having as much openness as possible. Everyone -- whether German or Turkish specialists -- certainly hopes that in the end there is not a criminal culprit behind this catastrophe."
-- R. Jay Magill Jr., 1pm CET