Merkel calls for calm, unity to fight terror as Europe ramps up security

Merkel calls for calm, unity to fight terror as Europe ramps up security

Police carry out security checks ahead of New Year’s celebrations at Puerta del Sol square in central Madrid, Spain, on Friday. — Reuters

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel told Germans in her New Year message that their country is stronger than terrorism and the government will do everything to ensure “security in freedom.”

Merkel said in her annual televised address broadcast on Saturday that 2016 had been “a year of severe tests,” the toughest of them extremist terror. She added, however, that she is “confident for Germany.”

On Dec. 19, 12 people were killed in a truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market. Daesh (the so-called IS) claimed responsibility for that rampage, as it did for two attacks in Bavaria in the summer in which the assailants — who came to Germany as asylum-seekers, like the chief suspect in Berlin — were killed and a total of 20 people were wounded.

“It is particularly bitter and sickening when terror attacks are committed by people who claim to seek protection in our country,” said Merkel, who has faced criticism for allowing in large numbers of migrants in 2015.

However, “in going about our life and our work, we are telling the terrorists: you are murderers full of hatred, but you will not determine how we live and want to live,” she said. “We are free, considerate and open.”

Germany is sending the same message in saying, in the face of pictures of the devastated Syrian city of Aleppo, “how important and right it was for our country to help those who really need our protection find their feet here and integrate,” Merkel added.

Germany’s democracy and values are the opposite of “the hate-filled world of terrorism, and they will be stronger than terrorism,” she said. “We are stronger together. Our state is stronger. Our state is doing everything to guarantee its citizens security in freedom.” She pledged that in 2017 the government will take action quickly “where political or legal changes are necessary.”

Merkel is seeking a fourth term as chancellor in an election expected in September, and already has said that she expects her toughest campaign yet. She called for “an open view of the world and self-confidence, in ourselves and our country.”

Meanwhile, European capitals tightened security on Friday ahead of New Year’s celebrations, erecting concrete barriers in city centers and boosting police numbers after Daesh attack in Berlin last week that killed 12 people.

In the German capital, police closed the Pariser Platz square in front of the Brandenburg Gate and prepared to deploy 1,700 extra officers, many along a party strip where armored cars will flank concrete barriers blocking off the area.

“Every measure is being taken to prevent a possible attack,” Berlin police spokesman Thomas Neuendorf said. Some police officers would carry sub-machine guns, he said, an unusual tactic for German police.

Last week’s attack in Berlin, in which a Tunisian man ploughed a truck into a Christmas market, has prompted German lawmakers to call for tougher security measures.

In Milan, where police shot the man dead, security checks were set up around the main square. Trucks were banned from the centers of Rome and Naples. Police and soldiers cradled machine guns outside tourists sites including Rome’s Colosseum.

Madrid plans to deploy an extra 1,600 police on the New Year weekend. For the second year running, access to the city’s central Puerta del Sol square, where revelers traditionally gather to bring in the New Year, will be restricted to 25,000 people, with police setting up barricades to control access. — Agencies