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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May 2005, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
German far right unites for polls
Germany is gearing up for a key election on Sunday in the mainly industrial state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

But the BBC's Tristana Moore in Berlin reports that far-right parties have their sights on a bigger goal - they are joining forces for the federal elections.


Police block neo-Nazi march in Berlin, 8 May 05
Police blocked a neo-Nazi march in Berlin on VE Day

The activities of neo-Nazis were very much in the spotlight on 8 May as Europe marked the 60th anniversary of the Allies' victory in World War II.

Supporters of the far right had threatened to march through Berlin towards the Brandenburg Gate and the new Holocaust Memorial nearby. But in the end hundreds of neo-Nazis dressed in black and many wearing balaclavas, were blocked on a square in the east of the city - Alexanderplatz.

They were surrounded and outmanoeuvred by riot police and thousands of protesters - members of anarchist groups, trade unionists and ordinary citizens.

Since their electoral successes in the east German state of Saxony, the far-right parties have gained momentum, but they have also come under intense public scrutiny.

War controversy

Last September, members of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) won more than 9% of the vote in Saxony. Two of their MPs in the state parliament, Holger Apfel and Uwe Leichsenring, have made controversial statements in parliament about the Allied bombing of Dresden during the war.

According to Mr Apfel, it was a "Holocaust of Germans".

NPD leader Udo Voigt
Far-right parties must work together now and act
Udo Voigt, NPD leader
Mr Leichsenring, a former taxi driver, now turns up for work in parliament dressed in a smart suit and tie - the traditional image of neo-Nazis as skinheads has disappeared, at least in public.

Other MPs try to ignore the NPD, some turn their backs in the parliament chamber, or the NPD members are shouted down.

The far-right parties have mobilised many supporters in the former communist East Germany, where unemployment is high - often one in five is without a job.

Saxony - famous for its mountains and the river Elbe - is now known for neo-Nazi activities in towns such as Heidenau and Koenigstein.

"People are fed up with the government's broken promises on the economy," said Mr Leichsenring, an NPD deputy in Saxony. "The government reforms have created poverty."

Election alliance

The NPD and another far-right party, the German People's Union (DVU), have now decided to forge an alliance in time for next year's federal elections.

NPD march in Dresden, 13 Feb 05
The NPD has exploited economic woes in the east
The NPD chairman, Udo Voigt, has a fortified office in Berlin - graffiti has been sprayed on the walls outside, the windows are barred and closed-circuit cameras monitor the entrance.

Mr Voigt was quick to distance himself from any suggestions that his party was linked to violence - and he denied any links with the so-called "Brotherhoods," or Kameradschaften, which are small, far-right groups.

He is proud of the NPD's new electoral tactics - but his words barely conceal the hardline anti-foreigner sentiments which most people associate with his party.

"We've noticed that so many foreigners are pouring into Germany, so we sat down with the leaders of the DVU," he said.

"We decided that both parties can't keep on fighting against each other, taking votes away, as one day all these foreigners will have power here in Germany. So far-right parties must work together now and act."

The prospect of any far-right party winning a seat in the federal parliament, or Bundestag, fills most Germans - including politicians - with horror.

Two years ago, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government tried to ban the NPD, but this attempt failed after the constitutional court rejected its case.

However, many politicians would still like to see the NPD banned.

"The far-right parties have managed to get into the state assemblies of Saxony and Brandenburg," notes Sebastian Edathy, a Social Democrat MP.

"We can't rule out the possibility that these parties will manage one day to enter the national parliament. These far-right parties are the enemies of democracy, they are orientated towards the time of Hitler in Germany, and they pose a threat to democracy itself."




SEE ALSO:
Germany beefs up anti-Nazi laws
11 Mar 05 |  Europe
Germans mark bombing of Dresden
13 Feb 05 |  Europe
Neo-Nazi bomb plot trial opens
24 Nov 04 |  Europe
Far right fuels German angst
20 Sep 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Germany
20 Jul 04 |  Country profiles


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