By RHEA WESSEL
Demonstrators blocked a large swath of central Frankfurt early Friday, standing in streaming rain to show their opposition to austerity policies in Europe.
The police estimated that between 500 and 1,000 people were in scattered groups at multiple sites around the headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Organizers had expected more protesters, and the police had planned for thousands.
A group called Blockupy organized the demonstrations and is planning a full day of protests at various sites in the city, including at the airport and in the central shopping zone. The group includes members of the Occupy movement, which protested the role of global capitalism by camping out at cities in several countries.
A Blockupy spokeswoman, Frauke Distelrath, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the protest was not aimed at central bank employees but at the bank’s role “as an important participant in the policies that are impoverishing people in Europe, in the cutbacks that are costing people their ability to make a living.”
The central bank, along with the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund, is part of the so-called troika of international lenders that has authorized bailouts of troubled euro zone countries in exchange for those countries’ pledges to cut their budgets and reduce debt.
Demonstrations were also planned in Frankfurt at the headquarters of Deutsche Bank, the biggest German bank and one of the largest in Europe.
Directly in front of the European Central Bank building, organizers instructed protesters via loudspeaker to make sure no bankers could reach their offices. An older man, who was apparently not a banker, was rushed by the crowd when he tried to cross the barricade, a police officer said. The police moved forward to help the man and he was able to pass. A Red Cross worker said 20 people were injured by pepper spray and force. The police pushed back demonstrators from barricades around the bank and elsewhere.
A woman named Sabrina, who would only give her first name, was physically blocked by protesters as she tried to pass a barricade to reach the law office where she works. Demonstrators shoved her and stepped on her feet as she tried to get by, she said.
“I find this pretty brash,” she said. “I support the right to express your opinion, but the demonstrators shouldn’t be able to rough me up like that.”
One demonstrator named Sven, who said he was an anthropology student in Frankfurt and who also did not want to be identified further, said he had been hit in the face by the police and got pepper spray in his eyes.
“I came because I don’t believe corporations should have the highest position in society and control all the money,” he said. “I think our demonstration is a legitimate protest for democracy and against capitalism, and it should be allowed. The police shouldn’t be here with such a huge presence to try to repress us.”