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Friday, 11 August, 2000, 21:52 GMT 22:52 UK
German alert over Nazi marches
Neo-Nazi groups carry Hess banners
The anniversary is used to stage a public show of strength
By European Affairs correspondent William Horsley

German police and security services are on high alert after several right-wing extremist groups announced plans to hold marches in honour of Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's former deputy up to 1941.

The anniversary of Hess's suicide in a West Berlin jail occurs on 17 August but police are bracing themselves for marches this weekend.

Literature commemorating Hess's death
Neo-Nazis see Rudolf Hess as a martyr to their cause
Like a many-headed monster, the splinter groups and political parties of the far right in Germany have survived years of surveillance and prohibitions by the authorities.

And this year, as every August since 1987, they want to use the anniversary of Hess's death to stage a public show of strength.

Shadowy group

They have recently had a strong shot of the oxygen of publicity thanks to a new debate about the merits of banning an extreme right-wing party, the National Democratic Party (NPD).

After an initial meeting on the issue this week, a formal ban on the NPD looks unlikely for the time being, even though intelligence officials say the party's "xenophobic and latently racist" politics violate Germany's constitution.

Member of the National Democratic Party
Extremists want to push mainstream parties into more nationalist policies
Meanwhile, a series of attacks on synagogues and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries have brought new anxieties about the strength of anti-Semitism in Germany.

The city of Berlin has officially banned one request by neo-Nazis for a march near the new British Embassy in the coming week.

Police crackdown

Hess hanged himself in Spandau jail, in the British sector of West Berlin, where he was being still being held more than 40 years after the end of World War II.

That is why neo-Nazis claim him as a martyr to their cause.

Police recently pulled down placards on two motorway bridges near Berlin reading "Rudolf Hess: It was Murder", and confiscated hundreds of other posters commemorating Hess on this anniversary.

NPD demonstration
A formal ban on the extreme right-wing party, NPD, looks unlikely
Another shadowy group, called the United Right, say they will meet to honour Hess in the small southern German town of Iphofen.

Violent assaults

Other far-right marches planned for Saturday have been banned by court orders in the western German city of Karlsruhe, as well as Duesseldorf.

There a bombing last month injured 10 people including six Russian and Ukrainian Jewish immigrants.

But the record of past years suggests that neo-Nazi groups may gather almost anywhere.

In 1993, 500 of them suddenly appeared in Fulda, near Frankfurt, and marched with their illegal Nazi insignia without being stopped by the police.

This year, as at the time of the Fulda march, there is a worrying upsurge in violent assaults and bomb blasts by far right-wing groups against refugees or immigrants.

This has led some foreign investors and workers to stay away from Germany.

Immigrant targets

In several shocking cases, African asylum-seekers have been hunted down and beaten by skinhead gangs in towns in eastern Germany.

Last December one such case led to the death of a would-be refugee from Algeria.

On Friday, a 19-year-old German youth was arrested in connection with a bomb explosion which damaged a Turkish snack bar in Eisenach in eastern Germany.

The suspect is Patarick Wischke, a leading figure in the youth wing of the NPD.

In this inflamed climate a few thousand neo-Nazis and violent thugs and an unknown number of other sympathisers again want to use the name of Hess to stir up anxiety and push the mainstream parties into more nationalistic policies.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has called for the full force of the law to be used against extremists, saying Germany's international image is being damaged.

The forces of law and order say they are ready to counter the threat from the far right.

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See also:

05 Aug 00 | Europe
German swoop on neo-Nazis
07 Aug 00 | Europe
Germany agonises over neo-Nazis
01 May 98 | Despatches
German neo-Nazi rally goes ahead
18 Feb 00 | Europe
World alert for rise of far right
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