Rallying at the Leipzig monument commemorating the defeat of Napoleon, thousands of blackshirted thugs of the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) cowered behind police lines as masked combatants of the ultra-left pelted them with bottles, ball-bearings and paving stones. More than 6,000 police troops and border guards fought to maintain order; their water cannons directed mostly against the punks flying the red flag.
The NPD had hoped for a 15,000-strong crowd but could only muster 4,000. They and their red-and-black banners were bused into the city after a court in Leipzig ruled overnight that the demonstration could not be banned.
In the morning, police cordoned off the centre of Leipzig, keeping both sides away from the shopping district, and erected roadblocks on all main thoroughfares into the city. They let the buses pass, after confiscating weapons from passengers.
The left, however, had already arrived for an anti-Nazi concert on Thursday night, and laid on a welcome for their adversaries by covering the 300ft tall monument with a banner declaring "Fascism - never again". It was the ultra-left who opened yesterday's proceedings by charging police lines and hurling stones and petrol bombs. Four people, including two police officers, were injured in the ensuing battle, and dozens arrested.
The neo-Nazis maintained discipline, however, and patiently listened to their speakers. Holger Apfel, head of the NPD's youth wing, was cheered when he called for deporting foreigners who were supposed to steal jobs from Germans and sponge off the country's welfare system.
It was these kind of slogans that netted another right-wing party, the German People's Union (DVU), nearly 200,000 votes in last Sunday's Saxony- Anhalt elections. The NPD's spokesmen yesterday again rejected an alliance with the DVU "phantom party", even though the latter has just scored the biggest triumph for the German extreme right since the war.