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Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 18:28 GMT
German press slams far-right ban fiasco
NPD demonstrators in front of Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
Germany's efforts to ban the far-right NPD in balance
Newspapers across the conventional political spectrum in Germany have had harsh words for the authorities following the apparent collapse of their attempt to outlaw the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD).

The country's highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court, announced on Tuesday that it was postponing a hearing set for 5 February, after it emerged that one of the senior NPD activists whose statements were to be used in evidence against the party was an informant for the domestic security agency.

For the right-of-centre Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "this absurd-sounding story pushes the plaintiffs... close to the verge of ridiculousness".

Is it normal for protectors of the constitution to go about attacking the constitution?

Berliner Zeitung

"Why did the Office for Protection of the Constitution (BfV) " - the agency's official title - "which played a major part in drawing up the case, allow the plaintiffs to fall into this trap?", it asked.

The whole scenario was "grotesque", it declared, going on to forecast: "Heads will roll".

Who guards the guards?

Other dailies saw ironies in the security agency's name and questioned its role in the affair.

German interior minister, Otto Schily
Red face for minister in charge of BfV

"Is it normal for protectors of the constitution to go about attacking the constitution?", asked the left-leaning Berliner Zeitung about the informant's position in the NPD.

It foresaw hard times ahead for Interior Minister Otto Schily, whose department oversees the agency.

"When did the ministry know about the BfV man in the NPD national executive, who knew anything about it, and when?", it asked.

"If the case does collapse completely, Schily can look forward to an interesting election campaign."

Out of control?

Another Berlin daily, the centre-left Der Tagesspiegel, feared that the BfV was out of control.

National and regional authorities alike have made proper fools of themselves

Der Tagesspiegel

With some 100 state informants thought to be active inside the NPD, it is especially important to ensure that evidence against the party is based on the words and deeds of genuine extremists, it warned.

"One wonders who actually has any overview any more of what is going on in the BfV," it stated.

"National and regional authorities alike have made proper fools of themselves."

The liberal Frankfurter Rundschau shared what it dubbed an "unpleasant suspicion" about the BfV.

"By helping to create the unconstitutional behaviour which then has to be combated, the constitution-protectors are doing democracy a great and sinister disservice," it declared.

Limits needed

The conservative Die Welt acknowledged the need for covert activities, but warned that there had to be limits.

There is nothing wrong in principle for the BfV to have informants in the NPD, for "the security authorities have a legitimate interest in having precise information about what the political fringes are up to", it said.

German skinhead next to neo-Nazi flag at demo in 1999
Covert operations are targeting activists
"But you need to have damned good reasons if you want to outlaw a party," it continued.

"If you don't have them, or if you arouse the impression that you are using dodgy tactics to fabricate them, you should drop it."

The centrist Sueddeutsche Zeitung agreed.

Reviewing what it described as "an unprecedented disgrace", it accepted that the state could not send uniformed officers to monitor the likes of the NPD.

"But there are limits," it warned.

"The state cannot combat anti-constitutional behaviour by operating in an anti-constitutional manner itself and possibly inciting rabble-rousers even further."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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