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German judges under fire for neo-Nazi ruling

BONN - Three German judges, who praised a far-right leader's character after sentencing him for denying that the Nazi Holocaust took place, may be shifted to other duties, the president of the Mannheim court said yesterday.

The row over the incitement to racial hatred case deepened, with calls for the defendant - Gunter Deckert, leader of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) - to be jailed, for a debate in parliament on the subject and for the three judges to be sacked.

Gunter Weber, president of the regional court, said the outrage and possible consequences would probably be discussed at a meeting on Monday, adding that the judges could be diverted to other duties. 'I hope it will not come to that,' he said.

Judge Weber had earlier told the Berlin daily, BZ, that he questioned whether the judges could continue in their present functions for the time being because of the controversy. 'It can be assumed that suspected criminals in the future will refer to the public debate and say: 'We don't want to be sentenced by these Nazi judges,' ' he said.

The court found Deckert guilty in June of incitement to racial hatred for spreading the neo-Nazi view that there had been no gas chambers at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp. He was given a one- year suspended term and a 10,000- mark ( pounds 4,120) fine because it is a crime in Germany to question the validity of Nazi war crimes.

Explaining the verdict on Tuesday, the court seemed to honour Deckert's convictions by saying he was 'mainly motivated by his effort to strengthen the powers of resistance in Germany against the Jewish demands stemming from the Holocaust'.

It said Deckert 'defends his political conviction, which is a matter of the heart to him, with great commitment and at the cost of substantial time and energy'. The court described the far-right leader as 'a previously unconvicted 54- year-old family father, whose crime in principle consisted of expressing an opinion'.

In New York, the Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti- Semitism, called for a review and a disciplinary probe. 'When a court appears to tolerate Holocaust denial and neo-Nazi views, we fear it irresponsibly invites a right-wing revival . . .' it said.

Judge Weber told BZ there was no reason or chance to sack the judges, whom he has described as liberals and not right-wing extremists. The judges, led by presiding judge Wolfgang Mueller, were unavailable for comment. Police said they had received threatening telephone calls and were being given protection.

Mannheim's public prosecutor, Hans-Heiko Klein, who has demanded two years' imprisonment for Deckert, told German radio he was considering pressing charges against the court for defending Deckert in its explanation of the verdict, saying a judge 'must not write everything he perhaps thinks'.

VIENNA - Gerhard Endres, 34, unemployed, was jailed for two years yesterday after being convicted of being a member of a banned neo-Nazi organisation. The prosecutor lodged an immediate appeal against what he said was a mild sentence.

Endres was found guilty on charges including taking over the leadership of the banned People's Extra-Parliamentary Opposition (Vapo), after the arrest in 1992 of its leader, Gottfried Kuessel.