Germans rally to counter anti-Semitism

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IN WHAT was intended as a signal against violence and barbarism, several thousand Germans gathered yesterday at the former Nazi concentration camp of Sachsenhausen to call for an end to the wave of anti-Semitism and xenophobia sweeping the country.

The rally, which came in the wake of renewed firebomb attacks against foreigners' hostels and desecration of Jewish cemeteries here, was one of several held over the weekend as Germany marked the second anniversary of unification. But its location was particularly poignant. Ten days ago a building commemorating the Jews who died at the Sachsenhausen camp was itself the object of an arson attack - prompting anguished cries of disbelief and intensified calls for tougher measures to be taken against those perpetrating such acts.

Shulamit Aloni, the Israeli Education and Culture Minister, told the crowd that nobody in Germany today could claim they did not know what hatred of foreigners and strangers could lead to. And in a reference to the arson attack, she said: 'The barbarians who set this place in flames could not kill the dead again. That happened more than 50 years ago.'

Since the current wave of xenophobic violence erupted in the northern city of Rostock in August, hostels for asylum-seekers, particularly in eastern Germany, have been targeted almost nightly.

On Saturday night, right-wing extremists hurled petrol bombs into a hostel in Greifswald, but the fire was extinguished before anyone was injured. A similar attack was reported at a hostel in Lobenstein in the southern state of Thuringia; no injuries were reported.

In other incidents over the weekend, some 1,500 neo-Nazis marched through the eastern towns of Dresden and Arnstadt, raising their arms in the banned Hitler salute and screaming: 'Foreign pigs, we'll get you all.' In Halle, a woman was injured following clashes between extreme- right and left-wing groups.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl, much criticised for not condemning the violence more forcefully from the start, gave a unity day television address on Saturday in which he described the attacks as a 'disgrace' for Germany and promised that perpetrators would feel the 'full force of the law'.

In a message to the Sachsenhausen gathering, read out by the Chancellery Minister, Friedrich Bohl, Mr Kohl said yesterday that 'intolerance would never be tolerated' and appealed to all Germans to show greater respect for human dignity.

Clearly embarrassed by international criticism and worried that continuing violence may put off much-needed foreign investment in eastern Germany, the government plans a crackdown against those responsible for the violence. In an interview with the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper, Rudolf Seiters, the Interior Minister, said he wanted to toughen up the laws to enable longer detention of repeated trouble-makers and was looking at ways of banning some of the worst-offending neo-Nazi parties and groups. Mr Seiters also proposed the setting up of a 'federal-state alarm plan' and a special intelligence exchange network as 'an instrument to better identify roving serial rioters'.

FRANKFURT - The Israeli novelist, Amos Oz, receiving the prestigious Publishers' Peace Prize yesterday, warned Germans to defend their souls and their country against racism, AP reports. 'Racism fanatics exist elsewhere in the world,' he said. 'But in Germany, the question is - where are the very many people who should be out on the streets defending their own country?'