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Last Updated: Friday, 26 May 2006, 07:04 GMT 08:04 UK
Racism fears dog World Cup build-up
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News

Riot police flank a far-right demonstration in Leipzig, 1 May 2006
German security forces say they will clamp down on extremism
Only a fortnight before the World Cup starts, racism has shot to the centre of public debate in Germany.

While anti-racism campaigners have warned black and Asian fans against visiting parts of Berlin and the former communist east Germany, politicians have leapt to reassure non-white visitors they will be safe.

Concerns have been heightened in recent weeks by a series of apparently racist attacks.

A German left-wing politician of Turkish origin was left with serious head injuries after attackers shouting "dirty foreigner" mugged him in Berlin, police said.

And last month an Ethiopian-born man was beaten into a coma in a suspected racist attack in Potsdam, the capital of Brandenburg state - a part of the former east Germany which surrounds Berlin.

With many thousands of fans expected in Berlin for matches including the World Cup final, anti-racism campaigners say they fear black and Asian fans may stray into areas which are not safe.

'Risk to life'

One such warning came from Uwe-Karsten Heye, a former government spokesman who now heads an anti-racism lobby, Gesicht Zeigen.

Map showing Brandenburg and Saxony states in Germany

"There are small and mid-sized towns in Brandenburg and elsewhere I would advise anyone with a different skin colour not to go," he said.

"They may not leave with their lives."

The Africa Council (Afrika-Rat), a group which represents Africans in Germany, has also said it will publish a brochure listing "no-go areas" which non-white visitors to the Berlin area should avoid.

The latest report from Germany's domestic intelligence agency is certainly not encouraging.

It shows a 27% increase in violence committed by far-right extremists in 2005 compared with the previous year.

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble
We will not tolerate any form of extremism, xenophobia or anti-Semitism
Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble
The estimated number of neo-Nazis in Germany has risen by 300 to 4,100, the report by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution said, with the number of right-wing extremists prepared to commit violence climbing 400 to 10,400.

But, speaking at the report's launch, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble insisted Germany would be safe for non-white football fans.

"We will not tolerate any form of extremism, xenophobia or anti-Semitism," he pledged.

Interviewed on local radio, Berlin's Mayor Klaus Wowereit reinforced the message that all visitors would be welcomed.

"We know that there are attacks on foreign-looking fellow citizens. It happens. But that doesn't mean this city isn't tolerant," he said.

Media hype?

Kay Wendel, a spokesman for Opferperspektive, a Brandenburg-based counselling service for victims of racist attacks, also warned against over-reacting to the threat.

There are no safe areas... but we have tens of thousands of visitors in this area every year and nothing happens
Kay Wendel
German victim support group

He said that while Brandenburg has a clear problem with racist attacks, with some 130 each year, media interest ahead of the World Cup meant the potential danger could be hyped out of proportion.

He advises non-white visitors to exercise the same caution they would in any strange city - but not to let fears of an attack like that in Potsdam spoil their trip.

"It's been an ongoing problem for 20 years. There's actually nothing new about it," he told the BBC News website.

"This type of violence can happen to anybody, anywhere. There are no safe areas... but we have tens of thousands of visitors in this area every year and nothing happens."

Mr Wendel is also concerned that warnings to avoid certain areas may play into the hands of Germany's far-right.

"We mustn't let them get strong by panicking," he said.

'Clever' operators

A source within Germany's domestic intelligence agency agreed that the threat from organised far-right extremist groups should not be overplayed.

Fans of different nationalities wave flags in Frankfurt for a TV programme
German authorities hope fans from all nations will be welcomed warmly

The biggest problem was likely to be violence by hooligans, she told the BBC News website, although Germany's far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) had been operating "cleverly" to win media coverage in the run-up to the World Cup.

The party gained publicity when it was forced to withdraw 10,000 copies of a leaflet with a racist theme which fell foul of German law.

The NPD has also announced plans to hold rallies in Leipzig, the only World Cup host city in the former East Germany, when Angola plays Iran. The far-right has said it will support Iran for the anti-Semitic comments of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

However, analysts believe the demonstrations - if the Leipzig city authorities allow them to go ahead - are likely to be too closely monitored to be the source of major trouble.

Right-wing marchers have already come up against Leipzig's police and left-wing counter-protesters when marching on 1 May and 3 October, the anniversary of German reunification, in recent years.

Dr Frank Nesemann, of the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture at the University of Leipzig, believes the roots for right-wing extremism in the region can be traced back to authoritarian education systems under the communists.

"This kind of education was always based on ideas of hatred - anti-capitalism and against class enemies, Zionism, the US, West Germany," he said.

Only time will tell what kind of welcome black and Asian fans receive after soccer's biggest event kicks off on 9 June.

But Germany's politicians - and the vast majority of its population - will certainly hope their country lives up to its tournament slogan: "A time to make friends."

Coming up from the stands
24 May 06 |  UK
Germany in World Cup pledge
18 May 06 |  African
German court blocks racist stunt
06 Apr 06 |  African


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