Germany confronts rising tide of racism as new immigrants arrive

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The Independent Online

Germany's political leaders cast around urgently yesterday for new ways of combating a rising tide of racism and anti-foreigner violence as the first of a wave of newly recruited immigrant workers began to arrive.

Germany's political leaders cast around urgently yesterday for new ways of combating a rising tide of racism and anti-foreigner violence as the first of a wave of newly recruited immigrant workers began to arrive.

The German Labour Minister awarded an Indonesian computer expert the first of 20,000 special work permits yesterday as part of a controversial scheme to fill Germany's hi-tech labour shortage.

But as Harianto Wijaya picked up his US-style "green card" the government sounded warnings that a spate of violent incidents would not help attract much-needed foreign workers to the country.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said constant reports of violence stained Germany's image abroad. Bernhard Rohleder, head of the hi-tech trade association Bitkom, said the fact there were fewer foreign applicants than available green cards "is the best indicator that for foreigners, Germany isn't attractive as a place to work".

Last week a pipe bomb went off in a Düsseldorf train station, injuring 10 people and killing an unborn child. Most victims were Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, so there were suspicions that the attack was anti-Semitic. At the weekend, skinheads chased two African asylum-seekers through streets of the eastern city of Eisenach. Three men, aged 18 to 21, were held on charges including causing serious bodily harm and incitement to racial hatred.

A house inhabited mostly by Lebanese was burnt down in Bocholt, injuring 14 people, and yesterday a bomb exploded in the town of Stralsund.

"This is the point where the silent minority can no longer be silent," said Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

The are daily reports of neo-Nazi excesses, especially in depressed former East Germany. They include the fatal beating of Alberto Adriano, a Mozambican, in a Dessau park, and Norbert Plath, a homeless man kicked to death on the steps of a church in Ahlbeck this month. Skinheads aged 15 to 24 were responsible.

Only 5,400 serious applicants have registered for 20,000 green cards, and in the heavily industrialized western state of Hesse, there were only 25 applications for 1,271 openings.

Mr Rohleder called for "stricter application of existing laws against right-wing radicals" who have been blamed by many for attacks. Police say the extreme-right generally lacks leaders and good organization, but some elements are trying to target political opponents.

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