Germans protest neo-Nazi hatred


Associated Press

DUESSELDORF, Germany — More than 30,000 people demonstrated against neo-Nazis on Saturday, drawing praise from a Jewish leader who said Germany is increasingly standing up against hate crimes.

Officials said 25,000 people rallied in Duesseldorf, where a July bomb attack on immigrants jolted the nation into confronting the far right, and the attempted firebombing of a synagogue this month heightened concerns. Another 6,000 demonstrated in Kassel, 125 miles east of Duesseldorf.

Civic groups, unions and politicians organized the rallies as a reply to what turned out to be much smaller neo-Nazi marches in both cities Saturday than in the past. Police reported about 70 arrests after scattered clashes between neo-Nazi marchers and radical leftist demonstrators.

Speaking to an applauding crowd in Duesseldorf, the head of Germany’s Jewish community said citizens must not remain silent when neo-Nazis strike.

"When ranting skinheads can claim they are carrying out the will of the silent majority, then the silent majority is not without blame," Paul Spiegel said.

A few hundred yards away, 300 neo-Nazis — mostly young men and boys with shaved heads — marched under heavy police guard, chanting, "Clear the street for the national resistance." Leftists shouted back and threw fruit and stones at them from behind police barricades.

In Berlin, assailants threw a Molotov cocktail at the headquarters of the far-right National Democratic Party but failed to spark a fire, police said. The German government is seeking to ban the party, which it blames for inciting hate crimes.

As government figures show far-right crime on the rise, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has urged Germans to take part in an "uprising of decent people" against neo-Nazis. About 20,000 people gathered last weekend in Dortmund to show solidarity with foreigners.

At least three people have died this year in a surge of far-right violence against immigrants, the homeless and other minorities. The Duesseldorf bomb attack in July injured 10 recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union, six of them Jewish.

Spiegel said the rallies were encouraging.

"My optimism is slowly coming back after the demonstrations in the last few days against rightist violence," he said.

Duesseldorf police mounted their biggest operation since World War II, with as many as 4,000 green-clad officers in the streets to prevent clashes. About 60 demonstrators were arrested, mostly leftist radicals.

In Kassel, about 75 extreme rightists demonstrated under the banner of a group that wants Germany to retake eastern European land it lost in World War II. Seven leftist demonstrators were arrested for trying to storm police barricades.

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