BERLIN, NOV. 14 -- An army of 3,000 German policemen used armored personnel carriers, tear gas, water cannons and bulldozers today to burst through massive barricades and force several hundred young anarchists out of 13 apartment buildings they were occupying.
Moving in at daybreak, police battled with the youths on the street, on rooftops and in the buildings, finally arresting more than 300 of the squatters. The youths, who had dug trenches and built 35-foot-thick barricades out of car frames, beds and floorboards, had fought off previous attempts to clear them out of the buildings, most of which are owned by the city.
Police said 70 officers and 15 squatters were injured in the three-hour battle, which Berlin Mayor Walter Momper defended tonight as a necessary reaction to "a frightening readiness to kill." Momper said the youths' occupation and defense of the buildings was "no political act, but criminal violence of the worst kind."
The squatters, who claim the right to live free in empty apartments in this reunited boom city, attacked police with molotov cocktails, stones and anything else they could throw at the wall of advancing officers.
"The occupiers in Mainzerstrasse were at no time ready for negotiations," Momper said. "Our policy is to find peaceful solutions, but to respond to violence with power and strength. I am extremely concerned at the scale of the violence and, above all, the readiness to kill."
Early this morning, the squatters agreed to mediation by Baerbel Bohley, a Berliner who was one of the organizers of last fall's peaceful East German revolution. But city officials rejected Bohley's offer, saying that the squatters' use of violence had ended any chance for negotiations.
In response to the police action, thousands of Berliners demonstrated tonight, some shouting for peace, others threatening renewed battle. Chanting "Hands off our houses!" the crowd demanded that the city move quickly to fill an estimated 25,000 empty apartments in a city where rents are skyrocketing as speculators take advantage of the rush of big businesses to Germany's new capital. Rents in eastern Berlin, which were kept artificially low by subsidies from the Communist government, are scheduled to jump by up to 400 percent Jan. 1.
Squatters and police have clashed here on three consecutive days, and city officials reported more than 130 injuries to officers who failed to take back the Mainzerstrasse buildings on Tuesday. Today's successful attack came with support from more than 1,400 police officers and border guards brought in from western Germany, together with dozens of armored trucks and bulldozers used to destroy the squatters' defensive barriers.
The use of force was immediately attacked by German political parties of all stripes, and the coalition of Momper's Social Democrats with the radical Greens was on the verge of collapse tonight in a dispute over the police action.
The raid also appeared to damage Berlin's public relations campaign to portray itself as the obvious choice for the seat of government of the reunited country. Berlin became Germany's capital when the country reunited Oct. 3, but the government will remain in Bonn until parliament makes a decision on the matter next year.
Advocates of keeping the government in quiet, uncontroversial Bonn jumped on the squatters' riots as proof that Berlin is too chaotic to serve as the nation's showcase.