Neo-Nazi May Day gathering evokes new fears of extremism

BERLIN — The specter of right-wing extremism is haunting the German political landscape.

Fears of a resurgence of the extreme right, stoked by the results of a recent state election, were heightened when thousands of German neo-Nazis held a May Day rally in Leipzig, where they blasted Chancellor Helmut Kohl for not doing enough to fight unemployment.

The leader of Germany's Jewish community, Ignatz Bubis, criticized a German court for allowing the May 1 demonstration by supporters of the National Democratic Party.

He said the expectation that human rights abuses would take place during extremist rallies justifies banning such events.

Other critics of the court's refusal to forbid the neo-Nazi march included the mayor of Leipzig and the national president of Germany's police union.

Officials in Leipzig — located in eastern Germany, where high unemployment has fanned anti-foreigner sentiment — banned the march three times, claiming that expected clashes between marchers and left-wing opponents would present a danger to the public order.

The city also said it did not have enough forces to police the demonstration.

The evening before the march, however, a Leipzig court said the city administration could not ban the march because the National Democratic Party is a legally registered political party.

A leading member of the opposition Green Party, Werner Schulz, has called for a ban on the National Democratic Party, which has a platform based on xenophobia, racism and ultranationalism.

The march attracted more than 3,000 participants, far less than the 15,000 expected by party officials.

Several hundred left-wing protesters tried to disturb the march, some by throwing stones and bottles at the marchers and the police.

Eyewitnesses said some of the right-wing marchers also threw objects at police.

After the demonstration ended, left-wing demonstrators clashed again with police. Several dozen were injured and more than 100 were arrested.

The National Democratic Party is one of Germany's three largest right-wing extremist political groupings.

It lost political strength in the mid-1990s, but intelligence officials now say the party has started growing rapidly in eastern Germany, where it has relocated its headquarters.

The evening before the May Day march, an estimated 10,000 people attended a counter-demonstration in Leipzig.

The march came in the wake of a strong showing by another extreme-right party, the German People's Union, in a recent state election.

The People's Union, which announced this week that it plans to run in another election in September, won 13 percent of the vote last month in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt and hopes to build on that success in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, another state in eastern Germany.