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Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 18:14 GMT 19:14 UK
Neo-Nazis march in Berlin
1992 neo-Nazi demo
Neo-Nazi activity has been on the rise since reunification
A German neo-Nazi march in Berlin has passed off peacefully, despite fears of clashes with anti-fascist demonstrators

A huge police deployment accompanied the march, by the National Democratic Party (NPD).

Several hundred people took part in the the parade along Berlin's main shopping street, the Kurfuerstendamm, organized to mark the eleventh anniversary of German reunification.

More anti-racism protestors were expected to gather for their own rally later in the day on Wednesday, as the German parliamentary speaker, Wolfgang Thierse, urged greater tolerance all round.

"We celebrate the day of reunification not only with the old East-West questions, but also with new and perhaps even ancient questions of how different people with different beliefs can get along," he told German radio.

Still legal

Several groups hostile to the NPD wanted the march banned, but the city's regional government decided against such a move, believing it would simply be overturned by the local courts.

Germany's constitutional court is currently considering an outright ban on the NPD, which is widely believed to be linked with a string of violent attacks on immigrants and minority groups.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
Mr Schroeder's proposed ban may be counter-productive
The German Government has made clear that it holds the party responsible for inciting racial violence, but outlawing the group has proved difficult.

Cabinet and parliament agreed last year on a ban, but the constitutional court must be convinced that the NPD is a threat to democracy before it abolishes the party.

Because it is little more than a fringe party, with just several thousand members, such a threat may be hard to establish.

Some observers note that the status of the NPD - which wants an end to further immigration - could be enhanced if the court rules that the ban is unconstitutional.

Dangers of ban

Others worry that banning such a group would simply push it underground, possibly producing an even more virulent form of racism.

Only two political parties have been banned in post-war Germany.

The successor of the Nazi Party was outlawed immediately after World War II, and the Communist Party was banned in West Germany in the 1950s.

Choosing Kurfuerstendamm as the scene of a rally was seen as particularly symbolic, as Jews once owned many of the shops there before the Nazis took power in 1933.

Many were forced to sell their property well below the going market rate as part of the Nazi "Ayrianisation" programme, before fleeing abroad or being sent to concentration camps.

See also:

21 Feb 01 | Europe
Germany sets up neo-Nazi hotline
08 Feb 01 | Europe
German racist attacks soar
10 Nov 00 | Europe
German Senate backs neo-Nazi ban
21 Oct 00 | Europe
Thousands protest as Nazis march
03 Sep 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Race hate in Germany
12 Aug 00 | Europe
German alert over Nazi marches
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