Fire damages future refugee home in eastern Germany

BERLIN -- A fire damaged a former hotel that was being converted into a refugee home in eastern Germany as bystanders celebrated, police said Sunday, days after a mob in the same state blocked a bus carrying asylum-seekers.

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The blaze in the roof of the building in Bautzen, in the eastern state of Saxony, broke out overnight. Police said no one was injured, but that a group of people gathered outside, some of them "commenting with derogatory remarks or unashamed joy" on the fire.

Police ordered three people to leave the scene because they were hampering firefighters' work and detained two of them, whom they described as intoxicated 20-year-old locals, after they ignored the order.

Authorities believe the fire was caused by arson, but they are investigating in "every direction," senior regional police official Bernd Merbitz told news agency dpa.

While the majority of Germans have been welcoming toward refugees, a vocal minority has staged protests in front of refugee homes, especially in the east, and the country last year saw a surge in violence against such lodgings. Saxony is home to the anti-Islam and anti-immigration group PEGIDA.

Across the state in Clausnitz, a mob screaming "We are the people!" and "Go home!" on Thursday blocked a bus carrying asylum-seekers outside a new refugee home. Police drew criticism in that case for roughly hauling some migrants off the bus into the building, which they insist was necessary to prevent the situation from escalating.

Saxony Governor Stanislaw Tillich described the two incidents as "appalling and shocking" and described the perpetrators as "criminals."

"This is abhorrent and disgusting," Tillich said in an interview with the Funke newspaper group. He pledged that authorities will investigate and "bring everyone responsible to account."

Germany's justice minister, Heiko Maas, wrote on Twitter that anyone who applauds as buildings burn or who intimidates refugees "acts abominably and abhorrently."



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