Pegida Cologne
Pegida supporters rally outside Cologne cathedral Reuters

Fights have erupted between anti-immigrant protesters and their foes in Cologne as people took to the streets to protest against mass sexual harassment and assaults on close to 100 women in the German city on New Year's Eve. Many of the young male attackers were described as "dark-skinned" or Arabic, though government officials are warning Germans not to subject foreign residents to "blanket suspicion."

Women reported being assaulted and robbed in what appeared to be coordinated attacks outside Cologne's main train station. The attacks sparked outrage, particularly among feminists as well as Germans clamouring to block refugees from the nation, including the anti-Muslim Pegida association. Chancellor Angela Merkel said that it was important to achieve a "noticeable reduction in the flow of refugees."

Only three of several attackers have so far been identified. Legal experts said it will be difficult to prosecute the culpable men because the attacks were random and victims did not know the attackers. In many of the assaults, women on the street were surrounded by men amid festivities in the street and groped. There were at least two reports of rape.

"They felt like they had power and could do anything with the women who were out in the street partying," said one victim. "They touched us everywhere. It was so horrible."

Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker came under heavy criticism after advising local women to protect themselves by staying an "one arm length distance" from men."