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Sex Assaults in Germany Could Result in Deportations

People protest in front of the main station in Cologne, Germany, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said that if there are asylum-seekers among the people responsible for the spate of thefts and sexual assaults in Cologne, they could be kicked out of the country.

Maas spoke Thursday to the Funke media group about the string of reported crimes. Maas said German law allows for asylum seekers to be deported if they are sentenced to a year or more in prison, which is possible with sexual offenses.

But German officials have cautioned that very little information is available about the perpetrators of the attacks over New Year's weekend, including whether the attackers were asylum seekers.

Officials said Wednesday that the attacks were likely part of a coordinated effort by a criminal gang.

Police say about 1,000 men, most of "Arab or North African origin," had gathered near Cologne's main train station around midnight throwing fireworks. After police moved in to break up the revelry, smaller groups of men began surrounding women passing through the area, groping and harassing them and stealing their belongings.

A plainclothes police woman said she was among those attacked.

About 90 people have filed criminal complaints, including one report of a rape.

The DPA news agency reports that three suspects are being investigated.

Both Justice Minister Maas and Chancellor Angela Merkel have condemned the assaults and called for the perpetrators to be punished.

Police in the German cities of Hamburg and Stuttgart have said similar crimes were committed during New Year's Eve festivities, but to a lesser extent.

On Tuesday, hundreds of women demonstrated in front of Cologne's cathedral calling for more respect for women.

Although the nationalities and residency status of the perpetrators is unknown, the assaults have intensified the debate about Germany's immigration policies.

Some 1.1 million people registered as asylum seekers in Germany in 2015.

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