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Berlin police force entry to long-time squat under hail of fireworks, smoke bombs

Berlin police force entry to long-time squat under hail of fireworks, smoke bombs
June 17, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) - Police in Berlin used battering rams and chainsaws on Thursday to force their way into a house occupied by squatters who threw fireworks and smoke bombs from the windows above, a day after 60 officers were injured by projectiles thrown from the property.

Long slated for eviction, the dilapidated five-storey building in the heart of the Friedrichshain party district, has for sympathisers become a symbol of the struggle by the old, low-cost Berlin of artists and drifters to survive in the face of gentrification.

The day before, police, instructed by the municipality to secure the building ahead of a mandatory fire inspection, attempting to clear the area around the house but were driven back by burning barricades and a hail of projectiles.

Their forced entry came after talks with the residents' lawyers broke down on Thursday morning.

Officers advanced up to the front door with shields held over their heads to protect them from projectiles thrown from above as residents, their faces concealed with ski masks, looked on from the windows above.

"We are making our way through the building bit by bit, carrying out the district's instructions to make possible a fire safety inspection," a police spokesperson said.

The house, festooned with graffiti condemning patriarchy and the state, was first squatted in 1990, the year of German reunification, when the run-down housing of the former East Berlin attracted flocks of young people to the city.

Berlin security authorities say the squat is a major centre for the city's far-left extremist scene, but residents have clung to the building despite the best efforts of a succession of owners and city governments.

On their website, residents said they had successfully defended their "autonomous zone... and face the future with a clenched fist."

The clashes at the squat at Rigaer Strasse 94 come a month after the Constitutional Court struck down a law that would have frozen rents, the latest attempt by city authorities to grapple with a chronic shortage of affordable housing.

A neighbouring squat, known as Liebig 34, was finally evicted in October after 30 years by 1,500 police officers.