Discord mars German Unity Day celebrations

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The Independent Online

Associated Press

Bonn - Left-wing demonstrators skirmished with police in Dusseldorf as Germany observed the fifth anniversary of unification by toasting its achievements but lamenting that in many ways the country is still not whole.

Speeches at Unity Day observances and a television address by Chancellor Helmut Kohl made it clear: West Germany and Communist East Germany drifted so far apart during four decades of forced separation that they will not be truly united for many years to come. "It is true that not all wishes have been fulfilled in the past five years," said Mr Kohl, who as West German Chancellor steered the two Germanys to unification on 3 October 1990.

Fears among security officials that left-wing extremists would try to disrupt the government's main Unity Day celebration in Dusseldorf proved right. Before dawn, militants set alight a car, hurled stones at police and smashed the windows of a bank and department store. Police arrested six youths and confiscated various weapons.

About 3,000 protesters marched through Dusseldorf in the afternoon, flanked by riot police. The demonstrators carried banners reading "Five Years of Unity - There's Nothing To Celebrate". At a rally, protesters said united Germany was heading towards militarism, pointing out the government's decision to let German soldiers take part in UN and Nato combat missions abroad. Unity Day celebrations are hosted each year by whichever of Germany's 16 regional states holds the presidency in the upper house of parliament - this year it is North Rhine-Westphalia, of which Dusseldorf is the capital.

Inside a concert hall surrounded by police, Mr Kohl, President Roman Herzog and other guests heard Johannes Rau, premier of North Rhine- Westphalia, lament that psychological and material barriers among Germans remain after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"The inner divisions have disappeared, but reservations and prejudices have made some invisible gaps wider and deeper than before. Much remains to be done, above all in the heads and hearts of Germans," said Mr Rau.

Germans from the two parts of the country tend to be suspicious of one another, with many westerners bitter that costs have gone up to pay for unity and many easterners believing their lives are dominated by the more affluent west. Mr Rau said completing unity is Germany's "task of the century" and "bringing back together that which was forced apart ... needs time. It doesn't happen overnight."

Reunited Germany has Europe's strongest economy, and is assuming a growing role in international affairs. But huge problems persist. Unemployment in eastern Germany remains at 14 per cent, and the region relies on government infusions of more than 150bn marks (pounds 55.9bn) annually.

Manfred Stolpe, premier of eastern Germany's Brandenburg state, said in Potsdam: "We did not enter a merged Germany as beggars. Along with the richness of our landscape and culture, we also bring with us hard- working people and experiences that are important for the future."