Germany denounces disinformation by groups in flood areas

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FILE - In this July 15, 2021 file photo the Ahr river floats past destroyed houses in Insul, Germany. Due to heavy rain falls the Ahr river dramatically went over the banks the evening before. The German government on Wednesday denounced attempts by some people or groups to spread disinformation in areas devastated by floods two weeks ago. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, file)

BERLIN (AP) — The German government on Wednesday denounced attempts by some groups or conspiracy theorists to spread disinformation in areas devastated by floods two weeks ago.

More than 200 people were killed in Germany and neighboring Belgium when heavy rain turned small rivers into raging torrents on July 14. Repairing the extensive damage is expected to be a long task. Over half of the victims died in western Germany's Ahr valley.

Police in that area said last week they were aware of right-wing extremists posing as helpers. They said officers would act against any people who “abuse the situation for political ends under the guise of helping." They also said vehicles with loudspeakers that looked similar to patrol cars had been spreading false information that police and rescuers were cutting back their deployment.

Over the weekend, the government's THW disaster aid agency reported cases in which real helpers were insulted and garbage thrown at their vehicles.

Government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer on Wednesday praised Germans' readiness to help and thanked foreign countries for their help — in particular aid given by a Polish fire service team. But she voiced “great concern and shock” that some people had used the situation to spread disinformation.

“These people are contributing to aggravating and exploiting the tense situation and the completely understandable uncertainty of the people affected,” Demmer told reporters in Berlin. “With their actions, they are also undermining trust in the many volunteer helpers, the collective management of the situation and action by the state.”

Demmer didn't cite specific cases of disinformation. But she said some of those involved appeared to belong to the Querdenker movement, which has protested coronavirus restrictions over the past year. She noted that a range of extremists and conspiracy theorists had already tried to divide society during the pandemic.

“We won't tolerate such attacks on helpers, and we also won't tolerate extremist forces exploiting the situation,” she said.

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