W. Berlin rocked by clashes between squatters, police

West Berliners are now looking for peaceful solutions after two nights of the worst clashes in years between police and youthful demonstrators. Confrontations between squatters and police Dec. 12 and 13 have left 70 policemen and an unknown number of demonstrators injured, some two dozen demonstrators arrested or sought for arrest, and shops looted on posh Kurfurstendamm.

Peter Ulrich, West Berlin's senator for the interior, stated afterward that violence against persons or property would not be tolerated, but that the Senate would seek to reach a political settlement rather than settlement by force with the squatters.

At root is the common problem of Berlin, Amsterdam, Stuttgart, and numerous other old European cities: a shortage of housing and especially of low-cost housing. In West Berlin, as in other cities, students and young people have finally taken things into their own hands and occupied vacant buildings.

In many cases the buildings have been awaiting demolition or for new plumbing to be installed in an upgrading to higher-cost apartments. Often the squatters fix up the buildings and enjoy a semilegalized tenancy at the discretion of owners.

The weekend clashes in West Berlin started the evening of Dec. 12 when police evicted squatters from one of the Kruzberg district's 20-odd buildings that have been occupied mostly by leftist or apolitical youths. The primarily German squatters and/or their supporters fought the police with stones and slingshots, broke some display windows and looted shops in this largely Turkish area.

The following night demonstrators demanding the release of those arrested the night before -- as well as opposing the arms race and NATO rearmament -- held what started out as a peaceful protest in the downtown heart of West Berlin. However, possibly at the instigation of "chaotics" -- the slang term for radicals who actively seek street battles with the police -- the protest turned into violence, with an exchange of rocks and tear gas, and plundering that lasted until the early hours of Dec. 14.

Afterward, demonstrators accused the police of brutality, including the driving of a police car into demonstrators at one point. The West Berlin police chief denied the charge, and Social Democrat Interior Senator Ulrich praised the police for their "moderate, energetic, and common-sense" deportment.

The Conservative Senate spokesman and a spokesman for the police union -- representatives of groups that often consider the governing Social Democrat-Liberal coalition soft on law and order -- criticized West Berlin's housing policy. They also criticized a "pseudo right" of squatters that has sprung up with government acquiescene.

Building Sen. Harry Ristock has stated that 80,000 of West Berlin's 1.1 million apartments have no baths or toilets, while an additional 250,000 are substandard in other ways.

The Kruzberg building that was evacuated by the police Dec. 12 was reportedly reoccupied by squatters Dec. 14.

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