The World from Berlin Love Parade Blame Game Gets Ugly

With Germany still reeling from the tragic deaths of 21 people after a mass panic at last weekend's Love Parade, officials, politicians, organizers and police continue to foist the blame on each other. The German press is appalled.
Duisburg Mayor Adolf Sauerland is clinging to his job.

Duisburg Mayor Adolf Sauerland is clinging to his job.

Foto: ddp

As Germans struggle to understand the exact sequence of events that lead to the deaths of 21 people at Saturday's Love Parade, the tit-for-tat accusations are continuing in earnest over who is to blame for the tragedy in the western German city of Duisburg.

On Wednesday the state authorities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where Duisburg is located, accused the event organizers of major security breaches. By Thursday the blame had shifted focus, with Duisburg Mayor Adolf Sauerland fielding increasing calls for his resignation.

The fatalities occurred after a mass panic just outside of a tunnel , which was the sole entrance to the techno festival at a disused freight rail yard. Most of the victims suffocated in the crush, while two succumbed to their injuries in the days following the stampede. While the city's authorization for the event clearly indicated an allowed maximum of 250,000 people  in the area, the organizers said they were expecting many more. Some media reports have estimated that as many as 1.4 million people may have tried to attend the Love Parade.

North Rhine-Westphalia's Interior Minister Ralf Jäger and the state's police controller Dieter Wehe accused the organizer, Rainer Schaller , of failing to properly control the entrance to the area where the victims died. Speaking on public broadcaster ARD, Jäger said that the organizer had "sole responsibility for the safety of people within the event area -- no one else."

But Jürgen Dressler, the head of the city construction office, which gave the authorization for the event, blamed the police. "The tunnel area was in the public space, outside the event area. The police are responsible for safety in public spaces," he told the regional daily Rheinische Post.

While presenting the findings of the preliminary police investigation on Wednesday, Wehe blasted the organizers' security plan and said that it was not clear if the 150 staffers who were supposed to be at the entrance to the venue were even there. He said that when the organizers couldn't control the flow of the tens of thousands of people into the area they turned to the police for help. The police have also criticized the city for only providing them with the details of the festival a few hours before it kicked off.

'Sauerland Must Go'

Despite increasing calls for his resignation, Duisburg's Mayor Adolf Sauerland has so far refused, saying that doing so would amount to accepting responsibility ahead of an investigation by prosecutors into negligent manslaughter.

In the Thursday edition of Rheinische Post, North Rhine-Westphalia Governor Hannelore Kraft said that "the mayor and the city's top officials have to finally accept political responsibility." Kraft's Interior Minister Jäger echoed that sentiment. Speaking on Thursday to public broadcaster ZDF, he said that "there is a political-moral responsibility," and that Sauerland would be well advised to answer this question of moral responsibility "as quickly as possible."

Both Kraft and Jäger are Social Democrats, making it unsurprising that they would call for Sauerland, a member of the conservative Christian Democrats, to fall on his sword. But pressure to resign has been mounting from his party allies as well. Hans-Peter Uhl, domestic affairs spokesman for the conservative camp in the federal parliament, told the radio station Südwestfunk on Thursday that Sauerland "naturally" had to resign. "The sooner, the better," he added.

The police investigation, while ongoing, has indicated that the city's authorization granted Love Parade organizers an exception, allowing them to have shorter and narrower emergency exits and escape routes than normally required. Jäger told ZDF on Thursday that the city will have difficulty explaining that authorization.

On Thursday several hundred protestors gathered outside the Duisburg town hall calling for Sauerland to step down. "Sauerland must go," they chanted, before holding a minute of silence in honor of the victims. The mayor has already said that he will not attend the funeral service this coming Saturday out of respect for the families of those who perished.

The German press on Thursday takes a look at the unedifying row over who is to blame and most papers argue that one thing is certain: the event should never have been allowed to go ahead.

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"It is not yet clear who bears responsibility for the deaths of 21 people at the Love Parade, but from the first moment of the disaster those who were responsible for planning the event insisted that they were certainly not responsible. The Duisburg mayor was not to blame and nor were the officials at the city building authority, nor those who organized the event, nor the police, nor the fire brigade. All of them, without exception, have stood in front of the cameras and microphones and emphasized their grief at the deaths, their sympathy for the families -- and their lack of responsibility."

"No one expects any one to publicly admit guilt before officials finish their investigation into the event. But the repeated pleas of innocence aren't merely desperate attempts to save their own skin, they are also a message to the 21 dead that it was really all their own fault."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"A city has to make clear to the organizers that there must be no deviation from the agreed security concept. The inconsistencies in the Duisburg authorization process show that this was not the case with the Love Parade. Apparently the city of Duisburg wanted one thing above all: to hold the Love Parade in their city."

"There was no lack of regulations or of expertise. But they were ignored and overruled due to the pressure to hold the event no matter what. And there was no veto to be expected from a higher political office: After all, the city, the state and the organizers all had an interest in seeing it go ahead. There was no independent body that could have put a stop to this alliance of interests."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The state's Interior Minister Jäger has rejected the accusation by the organizers that the police were responsible for the Love Parade disaster. He claims that the organizers who didn't meet essential requirements and the private security firms weren't up to the task. The police, he says, then came to their aid and prevented even more fatalities. The city is also likely to come in for criticism in the police report. The fact that they only gave authorization hours before the event is difficult to 'reconcile with trusting cooperation,' he said. Whether the interior minister, who is responsible for state security forces, could or should have used his veto is one of the many questions yet to be answered."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"Despite the uncertainty about the details, one thing is clear: For an event of this size, the space was too small and too enclosed. Whatever happened to actually cause the panic is of secondary importance. Rather, it is decisive that there was not enough space nor enough exits in the event of the kind of incident which occurred. There are long established norms for dealing with mass events. This was no unprecedented act of nature which caught us unawares. Rather it shows in a terrible way how institutional security measures can so easily be ignored. These measures are not overly complex, but very simple and precise. What exactly happened during the meetings to prepare for the event? How could the numbers of those attending and the other indices be simply ignored? That is the true scandal."

The mass circulation Bild writes:

"A mayor that is not allowed to make an appearance at a funeral in his own city cannot stay on as mayor. Sauerland's resignation will not bring anyone back to life. But it would at least honor the victims."

"Their deaths were not some accident of fate that no one could have done anything about. It was the result of terrible mistakes that the top politician in the city has to take the political responsibility for."

-- Siobhán Dowling
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