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Berlin preps for a women's 'safety' zone during New Year's Eve celebration

/ Source: Associated Press
Image: People demonstrate against racism and sexism in Cologne
People demonstrate against racism and sexism in Cologne, Germany in the aftermath of a string of New Year's Eve sexual assaults and robberies on Jan. 9, 2016.Oliver Berg / dpa via AP file

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BERLIN — The head of a German police union is criticizing the creation of a special safe zone for women at the annual New Year’s Eve party in front of Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate.

Rainer Wendt of the DpolG union says establishing such an area sends a "devastating message" that women aren't safe from assault outside of it.

Image: People demonstrate against racism and sexism in Cologne
People demonstrate against racism and sexism in Cologne, Germany in the aftermath of a string of New Year's Eve sexual assaults and robberies on Jan. 9, 2016.Oliver Berg / dpa via AP file

In an interview with the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung daily, Wendt was quoted Saturday as saying the move appeared to ignore the "political dimension" in Germany, two years after hundreds of women reported being sexually assaulted or robbed during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne.

Related: Roving packs sexually assaulted dozens on New Year's Eve

Organizers of the free, open-air event said the "Women's Safety Area" was requested by Berlin police. Other security measures include concrete blocks to prevent vehicle attacks and bag searches at entrances.

Two years ago, the attacks in Cologne, Germany's fourth-largest city, alarmed the country and led officials to figure out how to prevent such violence again.

Police at the time said the attackers — who struck in pairs and groups of up to 20 men — appeared to be part of a larger, 1,000-strong group that had gathered in one of the city's main plazas for New Year's celebrations.

Police fielded more than 1,000 criminal complaints, including 400 sexual assault allegations. Officials blamed most of the crimes on foreigners of North African descent, contributing to an anti-foreigner backlash.

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