Racist violence sweeps over Germany in Rostock's wake

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A WAVE of xenophobic violence crashed over eastern Germany at the weekend. Extreme right-wing youths, inspired by the earlier brutal assault on a refugee hostel in Rostock, launched a number of attacks against buildings housing foreigners and asylum-seekers.

In one of the worst incidents, in the city of Eisenhuttenstadt, near the Polish border, a large section of a hostel was burnt out after a petrol-bomb attack. In Zielitz, two hostel residents were badly burned when a petrol bomb smashed into their room during an attack by 40 neo-Nazi youths.

An entire tent encampment for refugees was burnt in Leipzig, after groups of youths wielding baseball bats hurled petrol bombs. None of the 50 residents was injured. In Cottbus, for the second night running, some 200 right- wing thugs fought with riot police for more than four hours outside a hostel. Several cars were overturned and set on fire.

By contrast, in Rostock itself - the scene earlier last week of the worst racist violence and running street battles with riot police since unification - an anti-racism rally on Saturday evening went off peacefully, despite earlier warnings of clashes between extreme right- and left-wing groups. About 15,000 people, many of whom had travelled from afar, marched through the suburb of Lichtenhagen, where the five consecutive nights of rioting took place.

The marchers carried banners saying 'Stop the Pogroms' and 'Nazis Out - Foreigners Stay'. About 3,500 police had set up checkpoints on all the roads leading into Rostock, at which large numbers of weapons were seized.

Drawing on the consternation provoked by this dramatic recrudescence of anti-foreigner violence, the Christian Democratic party is seeking to exert massive pressure on its liberal coalition partner, the Free Democrats, and the opposition Social Democrats, finally to accept a rapid revision of the generous constitutional provisions on asylum.

Over the weekend Chancellor Helmut Kohl said parliament had to move decisively to 'stop continued asylum abuse' if further racist eruptions such as those in Rostock were to be averted. The SPD leader, Bjorn Engholm, who after a dramatic U-turn a fortnight ago is now trying to win his party's backing for a toughening of the asylum law, said that new constitutional provisions could be in place before Christmas.

There were also calls, mainly from conservatives, for the setting up of rapid-reaction crack riot commandos to deal with the sort of running street battles seen in Rostock.

Amid this chorus of denunciation of asylum-abuse there were also, however, a few voices warning against politicians giving the impression that constitutional change will solve everything.

Heiner Geissler, a senior member of the Christian Democrats, said yesterday that the government ran the risk of a 'credibility crisis'. Such is the situation in eastern Europe, he said, that politicians would be lying if they did not tell Germans that refugees would keep on coming, and would still have to be taken in.

In an incident apparently unrelated to the racist violence, a bomb exploded on Saturday night at a festival in the centre of Hanover. Sixteen people were injured, one seriously. Police said no one had claimed responsibility for the blast.