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Car crashes into gate of Merkel's office, police seek motive

BERLIN (Reuters) - A car with slogans scrawled on its sides crashed into the gate of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office in Berlin on Wednesday and police said they were unsure of the driver’s motive.

Dozens of police and a fire engine rushed to the scene after the vehicle, with “Stop Globalisation Politics” written in white on one side and “You damn killers of children and old people” on the other, hit the gate, a Reuters photographer said.

Police said they had taken a 54-year-old man into custody and had questioned him. “We don’t know if psychological or other reasons motivated the driver,” a police spokesman told journalists outside the building.

Berlin newspaper BZ reported that the same vehicle, which had a license plate from the northwestern county of Lippe, had rammed the gates of the Chancellery in 2014.

Then, the messages “End this people-killing climate change” and “Nicole, I love you” had been sprayed on its sides, BZ said.

It was not clear if Merkel was inside the building, a white post-modernist structure set across a square from the Reichstag building that houses Germany’s parliament and well set back from any main roads. Both fence and car appeared largely undamaged.

“The Chancellor, other members of the government and people working in the Chancellery were not in danger at any time,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said, adding that the incident had caused only minor damage.

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Berlin is home to an active left-wing anti-globalisation scene, whose members have sought to stop development projects by big global companies and occupied empty houses.

Merkel was scheduled host a video conference of German state premiers on Wednesday, at which an extension to the coronavirus lockdown and further steps to combat the pandemic were due to be discussed.

Europe is on high alert after suspected Islamist militants killed eight people in Paris, Nice and Vienna in recent weeks. On Tuesday, Swiss police have identified a Swiss woman who knifed a victim in the neck and grabbed another by the throat in a Lugano department store as a known jihadist.

Four years ago, a failed Tunisian asylum seeker with Islamist links, hijacked a truck then drove it into a crowded Berlin Christmas market, killing 11 more people and injuring dozens of others.

Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold and Andreas Rinke; writing by Thomas Escritt; editing by Thomas Seythal, Emma Thomasson and Philippa Fletcher