roger waters
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Pink Floyd singer wore costume during performance in which he imagines himself as fictional fascist dictator.

Police in Germany have launched a criminal investigation into the Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters over a Nazi-style uniform he wore at a recent concert in Berlin.

"An investigation has been opened over the costume displayed at the concerts on 17 and 18 May," Berlin police spokesperson Martin Halweg told the Guardian.

Displaying symbols of Nazi rule, including the swastika or SS insignia, is illegal in Germany, with exemptions for educational purposes and in artistic contexts.

The legal concept of "incitement of the people", which often applied to trials relating to Holocaust denial in Germany, makes it illegal to assault the human dignity of "national, racial, religious groups or a group defined by their ethnic origins".

"The context of the clothing worn is deemed capable of approving, glorifying or justifying the violent and arbitrary rule of the Nazi regime in a manner that violates the dignity of the victims and thereby disrupts public peace," Halweg said.

At the concert at Berlin's Mercedes Benz Arena, Waters appeared on stage as the character Pink from the rock opera The Wall during a performance of the song In the Flesh, wearing a black leather trench coat with a red armband bearing two crossed hammers instead of a swastika.

In the rock opera, the song marks its protagonist's descent into a drug-induced hallucination, in which he imagines himself as a fictional fascist dictator addressing a neo-Nazi rally.

When Waters and the German band Scorpions performed In the Flesh at a concert in the no-man's land next to the recently toppled Berlin Wall in 1990, Waters wore a military uniform closer resembling those worn by the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

In the 1982 film version of The Wall, Bob Geldof performed the same song in a Nazi-style uniform, and Waters wore a similar costume as part of his 2010-13 The Wall Live tour, which included nine concerts in Germany.

As part of their investigation, police in Berlin would look at footage of his previous shows in Germany to assess whether the costume had been changed, Halweg said.

Israeli authorities have in recent days criticised Waters less for the costumes than a segment featuring the names of activists killed by authorities. Names on the list included Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager killed in a Nazi concentration camp, as well as that of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian-American journalist who is believed to have been shot dead by an Israeli sniper in May 2022.

Danny Danon, Israel's ambassador to the UN, wrote on Twitter that Waters had compared the Holocaust victim Frank to "a journalist shot in an active combat zone", adding: "Waters seeks to compare Israel to the Nazis."

Berlin police will continue to gather evidence for approximately three months and then hand over their findings to the state prosecutor, who will assess whether Waters's act can be considered as incitement to hatred.

Waters is due to play a concert in Frankfurt on Sunday that city magistrates had tried to cancel, accusing him of being "one of the most widely known antisemites in the world". Waters, who has always denied accusations of antisemitism, took legal action against the decision. Frankfurt's administrative court last month declared the singer's right to go ahead with the event, while acknowledging that aspects of his show were "tasteless". The Guardian has contacted Waters for a response.