Cologne's police chief has been fired amid criticism of his force's handling of a string of New Year's Eve assaults and robberies.

Wolfgang Albers was sent into early retirement by the state government, Cologne police said Friday. He had faced mounting criticism both for the police's handling of last week's events and of the fallout.

Some 121 women were reportedly robbed, threatened or sexually molested by gangs of mostly drunk men between 18 and 35 years old while out celebrating. 

Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker suggested Friday that police had held back information from her, and said in a statement that her "trust in the Cologne police leadership is significantly shaken."


Women hold up placards that read, 'Mrs. Merkel: Where are you? What are you saying? This worries us!' during a protest in front of the Cologne Cathedral on Jan. 5. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)

Also Friday, the German interior ministry said that asylum seekers had been among those involved in the New Year's Eve violence in Cologne. 

Ministry spokesman Tobias Plate told a news conference that federal police had identified 31 people who played a role in the violence, 18 of whom were in the process of seeking asylum in Germany.

Plate said the vast majority of the 32 criminal acts documented by federal police were tied to theft and bodily injury. Three were related to sexual assaults, although police had no names tied to these acts.

He said of the 31 people questioned, nine were Algerian, eight Moroccan, five Iranian, and four Syrian. Two German citizens, an Iraqi, a Serb and a U.S. citizen were also among those seen to have committed crimes during the night.

Attacks in Sweden 

Meanwhile, Swedish police said at least 15 young women have reported being groped by groups of men on New Year's Eve in the city of Kalmar.

Kalmar police spokesman Johan Bruun on Friday said groups of men encircled women on a crowded square and groped them. He said no one was physically injured but that many of those targeted were terrified.

He said two men, both asylum seekers, were informed through interpreters that they're suspected of sexual assault and that police are trying to identify other suspects.

Asked about similarities to assaults in Germany, Bruun said "we are aware of what happened in Germany, but we are focusing our investigation on what happened in Kalmar."

With files from Reuters