Germany split over neo-Nazi crackdown

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The Independent Online

As the German government prepared to clamp down on neo-Nazis, divisions surfaced in its own ranks yesterday over proposals to ban the country's longest established far-right party.

As the German government prepared to clamp down on neo-Nazis, divisions surfaced in its own ranks yesterday over proposals to ban the country's longest established far-right party.

Spurred by a spate of racist attacks in recent weeks, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's cabinet is set to discuss draconian measures against neo-Nazis tomorrow. A meeting last Friday with officials of the 16 Länder yielded surprisingly broad support for a ban on the extremist National Democratic Party, the NPD.

But while conservative administrations, which often play down the threat from the far right, barely objected this time, the planned ban has raised heckles on the left. The loudest protest is from the Greens, whose leader, Renate Künast,yesterday described moves to outlaw the NPD as "complete nonsense".

Some of the Greens, whose roots go back to the revolutionary movement in the Sixties and were once linked to urban guerrillas, argue - with some authority - that a political force may prove more dangerous when it is driven underground. Ms Künast is even opposed to banishing unpleasant demonstrations to the fringes of towns. "A demo-free zone is a democracy-free zone," she said.

Her government colleagues are unlikely to heed her warning, however. The Nazi marching season is upon us, with the troops gathering to mark this week's anniversary of the "murder" of Rudolf Hess, the Führer's deputy, at the hands of his British captors in Spandau prison. Far-right groups are planning a series of commemorations, culminating in a march past the new British embassy in Berlin on Saturday.

These demonstrations will be banned or diverted, but putting the NPD out of business will be a harder task. The government must submit an application to the Constitutional Court, backed by evidence that the party is involved in racist crimes. The political argument underpinning the request is that the NPD has become a useful front for shadowy skinhead groups bent on mayhem.

Germany's judiciary, the secret services, and the public are enthusiastic, even though no German political party has been outlawed in the West since 1956. The last victim of this special constitutional measure designed to protect the fledgling democracy was the German Communist Party (KPD).

The NPD has about 6,000 members and rarely wins more than 2 per cent in elections. Its programme is couched in legally unobjectionable language, though the party's youth wing is known for inflammatory propaganda. The decision to ban it appears to have been taken; the process will last about a year.

What then? The government announced yesterday a war on neo-Nazi internet sites, though that will require the co-operation of authorities in the United States, where most originate. There are proposals for an education campaign targeting schools in the East.

So far no one has suggested what to do about mainstream conservative politicians, such as the Christian Democrat Jürgen Rüttgers, who make it their business to stir up hatred of foreigners.

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