Anti-capitalist protesters clashed with riot police near the new headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, Germany on Wednesday and set fire to barricades and cars, in an attempt to disrupt the ceremonial opening of the billion-euro skyscraper.
“Our goal in the morning of March 18, 2015 is an effective blockade of the ECB, its daily work and the opening ceremony,” Blockupy, which organized the protest, wrote on its website. Ten thousand protesters were expected to join a march through Frankfurt after the ECB opening ceremony.
Dark smoke billowed in front of the ECB tower and over Frankfurt. Streets were blocked by burning stacks of tires, and several cars had been set on fire.
“Free caviar for everyone,” read one banner held by an anti-capitalist protester.
Clashes broke out after police used water cannon to try to make a path through the mass of black-clad protesters to the entrance of the building. At least 100 protesters were injured.
Some 94 police officers were reportedly hurt by stones and tear gas flung by protesters, police said. At least 550 protesters were detained.
During Wednesday’s inauguration, ECB President Mario Draghi said it was “not fair” for protesters to single out the bank for unpopular austerity measures.
“There are some, like many of the protesters who are outside today, who believe the problem is that Europe is doing too little. But the euro area is not a political union of the sort where some countries permanently pay for others,” Draghi said.
Protesters, however, were calling on the ECB to do less.
"Our protest is against the ECB, as a member of the troika, that, despite the fact that it is not democratically elected, hinders the work of the Greek government. We want the austerity politics to end," Ulrich Wilken, one of the protest organizers, said.
Blockupy says it represents grass-roots critics of financial institutions including the "Troika": the ECB, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund.
The Troika monitors compliance of countries such as Greece and Cyprus on the conditions of bail out loans.
In return for bailouts, the countries have had to adopt severe austerity measures that have been blamed for increasing unemployment and stunting economic growth.
A recent report critical of austerity measures showed that most of the money lent to Greece went to its banks and foreign creditors — mostly French and German banks. A mere 11 percent of the total funding was used for Greece’s state operating needs, the report said.
Yet the ECB continues to be influential as a provider of finance to the banks of those struggling countries in return for such austerity measures. In recent weeks, the ECB extended another loan to Greece after tough negotiations over what conditions it would have to fulfill in return for the bailout.
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis last week criticized ECB policy towards Athens as "asphyxiating,” a criticism also made by protest organizers.
Blockupy protesters from 39 European countries said the Troika’s policies have damaged Greece and other so-called periphery countries in the European Union. They called for an end to austerity policies.
“Together we want to create a common European movement, united in diversity, which can break the rule of austerity and will start to build democracy and solidarity from below,” Blockupy said on its website.
Al Jazeera and wire services