Update as of 6:40 a.m. EDT: The livestream on the European Central Bank’s website shows the inauguration of its new headquarters proceeding on schedule, despite ongoing protests outside the building. The website of Blockupy, which organized the protests, appeared to be down at the time.
Anti-austerity protests in Germany broke out into violence on Wednesday as authorities clashed with left-wing protesters who were demonstrating against the opening of the European Central Bank’s new headquarters in Frankfurt.
At least two police cars were torched in the protests and authorities reported that one police officer was injured after protesters threw stones at security forces, according to a police spokeswoman, Reuters reported. Windows and storefronts were also smashed by the group. Police said at least 350 people have been arrested as of 9:30 a.m. GMT (5:30 a.m. EDT), BBC reported.
Police put up barricades and barbed wire around the ECB's headquarters, which had a price tag of 1.4 billion euro ($1.49 billion), to prepare for protests by a group known as the "Blockupy" network, a leftist alliance composed of over 90 groups across Europe. The group had planned a series of activities, including "standing blockades, music and street theater, banners and themed objects," to protest against the European Union’s austerity measures and capitalism. The bank was targeted because of its role in promoting cutbacks in social services and debt reduction in financially troubled countries like Greece.
Activists also blocked a central bridge and a major road in the city, ahead of a larger protest where about 10,000 people were rallying in Frankfurt’s main square, where organizers had chartered special train and bus services to bring in protesters from Berlin and elsewhere in Europe.
Frankfurt police said most protests were expected to be peaceful, but that the crowds could contain violent persons who would use the opportunity to sow discord. "It is one of the biggest deployments ever in the city," a police spokeswoman told Agence France-Presse (AFP), adding that there was a "high possibility" of further violence. Scenes from the ground showed burning police vehicles and peaceful sit-ins alike:
— Enough is Enough! (@enough14) March 18, 2015
— Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallStNYC) March 18, 2015
— Christian Langbehn (@chlangbehn) March 18, 2015
The ECB, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund are members of the so-called “troika,” which has been responsible for engineering austerity policies. The ruling Greek Syriza party has spoken out against what it called a “humanitarian crisis” as Greece’s economy shrunk by over a quarter, leaving pensioners and the unemployed in worsening poverty.
The ECB reportedly said the bank opening, which is set to occur at 10 a.m. GMT (6 a.m. EDT), will proceed on schedule despite the protests.