Neo-Nazis hijack Dresden ceremony in the biggest far-right demonstration since Hitler

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Thousands of neo-Nazis hijacked official ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied bombing of Dresden yesterday in the biggest demonstration by the German far right since the Second World War. More than 5,000 neo-Nazis overran the east German city with a mass protest against "Anglo-American bomb terror".

Thousands of neo-Nazis hijacked official ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the Allied bombing of Dresden yesterday in the biggest demonstration by the German far right since the Second World War. More than 5,000 neo-Nazis overran the east German city with a mass protest against "Anglo-American bomb terror".

The scale of the fascist turnout, although predicted, came as a major embarrassment to the city and the government of the Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. Both had hoped that the anniversary would be dominated by gestures of reconciliation.

Instead, a crowd of neo-Nazis bussed in from all over Germany gathered behind Dresden's rebuilt Semper Opera House to hold a "funeral rally and march". The British and the Americans were bitterly criticised for the raid in February 1945 which was described as a "bomb holocaust" and example of "Anglo-American terror".

Holger Apfel, 33, leader of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), which won seats in the Saxony state parliament in Dresden last October, appeared with other neo-Nazi leaders to denounce the British and Americans as "mass murderers and gangsters".

"They have left a trail of blood that stretches from Dresden to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and possibly Iran," Mr Apfel told the crowd to enthusiastic applause and chants of "murderers". He added: "We must not allow Germany to become the accomplices of American gangster policy."

Waving black banners and black balloons, with the slogan "bomb terror", the neo-Nazis also accused post-war Germany and the Allies of deliberately downplaying the number of deaths caused by the bombing which officially stands at 35,000. On numerous placards written in Nazi-style Gothic script, they claimed that the figure was 350,000.

The far right also flouted German law by singing a folk version of the banned verse of the national anthem.

Hundreds of left-wing anti-Nazi protesters headed by an organisation called "No Tears for Krauts" attempted to shout down the neo-Nazis with whistles and catcalls. They were kept at bay by thousands of riot police equipped with water cannon who had been brought in from throughout south-east Germany.

Earlier, neo-Nazis managed to overshadow a wreath-laying ceremony attended by Jewish community leaders and the British and American ambassadors at the city's Heidehof cemetery, where the ashes of thousands of Dresdeners killed during the raid lie buried.

Groups of shaven-headed men in leather jackets and other apparently middle class neo-Nazi supporters formed up in silence and laid their own wreaths at the site. They bore white ribbons with slogans such as "Dresden not forgotten, not forgiven".

One of the placards on show at the ceremony depicted a German woman fighting her way through the rubble of Dresden clinging on to two badly mutilated and bloodstained children. The neo-Nazi presence was particularly galling for the Dresden city government as the anniversary had been intended as a major gesture of reconciliation and as a sign that Germany had finally put the Second World War behind it. To mark the occasion, the city had opened its painstakingly restored Frauenkirche cathedral, whose ruins were once a symbol of the city's destruction. Its rebuilding has only just been completed, funded by donations from Britain and other countries.

The people of Dresden had been urged by the city authorities to wear white roses in their buttonholes to demonstrate reconciliation. But many neo-Nazis chose to wear the emblems as well. Recent opinion polls show that up to 30 per cent of young Germans view the Dresden raid as comparable to the Holocaust.

Churchmen in Dresden have blamed hostility to the Allies on East German Communist propaganda which for decades held that the raid was a needless act of "Anglo-American aggression" inflicted on innocent civilians.

Ingolf Rossberg, Dresden's Mayor, said yesterday that it had been impossible to ban the neo-Nazi demonstrations. "So long as the NPD is an established political party with seats in a state parliament, we cannot ban it from holding marches," he said.

Edmund Stoiber, the Bavarian Prime Minister, accused Mr Schröder of creating a breeding ground for the far right by allowing unemployment, which stands at five million, to spiral to record levels.

Chancellor Schröder appealed to Germans to reject neo-Nazi interpretations of the Dresden raid. "Showing historical responsibility means not weighing crimes against suffering," he said. "I always remember how much suffering Germany caused to others by a war that it started."

Mr Schröder's government has announced plans to curb the activities of the far right, but none of the measures were in place to prevent yesterday's march. The Chancellor also declared that his government was redoubling its efforts to ban the NPD. Two years ago an initial attempt to outlaw the party through the country's constitutional court in Karlsrühe ended in failure. Judges ruled that secret service informers whose evidence was used against the party had acted as "agents provocateurs".

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