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Boy, 15, Arrested in Fire Fatal to 5 in Germany : Minorities: German and Turkish leaders work to calm Turkish community. Other arrests are possible.

June 01, 1993|TYLER MARSHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BERLIN — As authorities struggled to contain a potentially explosive mood among minority Turks in the western city of Solingen on Monday, police arrested a 15-year-old boy as one of those involved in the arson attack that claimed the lives of five foreigners.

Meanwhile, political leaders in Germany and Turkey worked to calm overheated emotions within the 1.7-million-strong Turkish community here, emotions that threaten a serious domestic crisis.

Monday's events followed the worst attack on foreign residents in the history of post-World War II Germany. Two women and three girls, aged 4, 9 and 13, died in the fire early Saturday. Three others, including a 6-month-old infant, were hospitalized with serious injuries. All were Turkish nationals.

Saturday's attack was the worst in a series of violent incidents directed against foreigners that have become a part of life in reunified German society.

The assaults have been carried out mainly by young toughs variously called skinheads or neo-Nazis. They are poorly organized and appear to have far greater interest in raw violence than in any grand ideological goals.

Authorities at the federal prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe said the 15-year-old was formally arrested after prolonged interrogation. The boy's name was not released because he is a minor.

He is expected to be charged with five counts of murder in addition to 15 counts of attempted murder and arson. There were 20 people in the three-story house when the attack occurred.

"The young man is in custody; the investigation continues," declared Chief Federal Prosecutor Alexander von Stahl. "I cannot say more at this time."

Sources close to the investigation, who declined to be identified, indicated that the boy was from the Solingen area and belonged to what one law officer described as the "two handfuls" of skinheads who live in the city of 160,000 about 20 miles northeast of Cologne.

Other radical youths are among those still being questioned, and further arrests are expected, these sources said.

As the criminal investigation continued, the mood among Turks in the city oscillated wildly between grief and rage.

Observers said that hard-core activists representing both rightist and leftist elements within Germany's Turkish minority had moved into the city from elsewhere in the country and were trying to fan emotions.

Early Monday, bands of Turkish youths accompanied by some German leftist anarchists broke windows and looted about 50 stores in the city center. Seventeen were arrested.

Later in the day, five policemen and a child were injured by flying rocks as law officers in riot gear worked to separate rival Turkish processions that briefly collided as they marched through the city.

By late afternoon, an angry group of several hundred Turks had gathered in front of the charred remains of the house where the attack occurred, where they listened to speakers demand violent retribution.

The main evening television news transmitted videotape showing a Turk in paramilitary clothing screaming at nearby Germans, "We're going to gas you!"

A few hours later, the scene had changed dramatically, with groups of mourners praying in front of the house and denouncing the previous calls for violence.

Earlier in the day, a group of more than 100 Turks blocked the entry to the Cologne-Bonn airport, delaying many flights and leading to six cancellations, while in Hamburg, Turkish protesters blocked a major access road into the city, causing a backup nearly 15 miles long.

As dark came to Solingen on Monday evening, about 3,000 mainly Turkish protesters continued to roam the city's central area in an atmosphere that remained extremely tense.

In an attempt to head off further unrest, both German and Turkish political leaders called for calm.

In an interview shown on German television, Turkish Prime Minister Erdal Inonu urged his citizens in Germany not to act rashly and to reject violence.

"We don't want to destroy years of good relations between us," he said.

Turkey's ambassador to Germany, Onur Oymen, also issued a plea against revenge. "We don't want Turks to overreact," he said. "They should express their feelings in a democratic way."

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel delivered a similar message at a hastily arranged news conference in Bonn. "We've got to do everything possible to keep our heads level and our minds focused positively," he said.

Authorities were hoping that the end of the three-day Whitsun holiday weekend would also act to restore calm, with many scheduled to return to work today.

Once again Monday, no leading national German politician dared to venture into Solingen. Those who came Saturday in the wake of the attack were booed and shouted down as they tried to speak to an assembled crowd.

It also became clear Monday that the German government is likely to come under considerable pressure to ease its tight citizenship rules that generally prevent foreigners from becoming German citizens and thus deprive them of basic rights, including the right to vote.

Throughout the weekend of protests, Turks expressed special anger at being effectively excluded from the mainstream of the country in which many of them were born.

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