BERLIN - Germany moved Tuesday to block Nazi slogans as German Web addresses after discovering someone had registered www.heil-hitler.de. But officials worried about rising neo-Nazi violence concede there's little they can do about sites based elsewhere in cyberspace - especially the United States.
The initiative comes as Germans search for ways to combat a wave of neo-Nazi activity, ranging from vandalism at Jewish cemeteries to attacks on minorities that have left three people dead so far this year.
Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin said her office approached Denic, the Frankfurt-based cooperative for issuing Internet addresses in Germany, to remove the Nazi slogan, which is illegal in Germany, and to prevent other such sites from getting online.
''I've looked at the guidelines, and one can pull these things if there's a clear violation of the law,'' Daeubler-Gmelin said on WDR broadcasting.
Denic and the Berlin-based Internet service provider involved, Strato AG, both said the application - like thousands of others daily - had been handled by fully automated systems without being checked.
''With 200,000 reservations a month, it's not possible to do it any other way,'' said Denic spokesman Klaus Herzig.
But the justice minister said such arguments were unconvincing, and that a means for blocking ''anti-Semitic, racist or other kinds of clearly Nazi or otherwise provocative words'' had to be found.
''I believe there's absolutely no worry here about having to face charges of censorship either,'' she said, adding that her office would help draw up a list of names to be banned.
The simmering problem of rising neo-Nazi activity was pushed onto front pages two weeks ago after a bombing at a train station in Duesseldorf injured 10 recent immigrants, including six Jews.
Another bomb was defused Monday outside the home of a former local Jewish community leader in the southern town of Bamberg, and as in Duesseldorf, police said they were not ruling out neo-Nazi involvement.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder interrupted his vacation Monday night to issue a call for using the ''full force of the law'' against right-wing extremists. Opposition lawmakers proposed creating special courts to hold fast-track trials for anyone charged with neo-Nazi crimes.
Tennis legend Boris Becker, who once threatened to leave his home country because of racist slurs against his wife, indicated he would join a new ''Show Your Face'' publicity campaign against right-wing extremism.
''You can't do enough'' to combat intolerance and violence, said Becker, whose wife is the daughter of a black American.
The person who applied for the www.heil-hitler.de site was identified by Denic officials only as Ralf K., from the small town of Dabel, north of Berlin near the Baltic coast. The Bild tabloid said he was a 28-year-old staff sergeant in the German army and had denied any connection with the site.
The domain name - including ''de'' for Deutschland, the German word for Germany - was entered Thursday but no page was ever created.
According to the Frankfurt newspaper that first reported the site, attempts have been made in recent weeks to register other provocative names such as the German equivalent of ''kill-all-foreigners'' or ''KZ'' - the German initials for concentration camp.
Those sites have been blocked, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported Tuesday.
Strato spokesman Soeren Heinze said whoever ordered the heil-hitler.de domain name may have been reserving it to prevent neo-Nazis from using the address. An anti-fascist group blocked www.nsdap.de - the German initials for the Nazi party - by putting up its own nonsense pages, for example.
A U.S.-registered site, www.heil-hitler.com, brings up a Web page for Namezero.com, a Silicon Valley company that provides free commercial domain names for individuals and small businesses.
German authorities reported in April that far-right extremists were increasingly organizing themselves via the Internet and using it to spread hate material, ''hit lists'' of leftists and other perceived enemies and even bomb-making instructions.
German neo-Nazis now have more than 330 Web sites, compared to about 32 in 1996.
About a third contain content that could be prosecuted in Germany as incitement to racial hatred, but the anonymous authors circumvent the law by posting their sites on Internet service providers outside Germany, mostly in North America.
''Whenever someone posts this Nazi propaganda using foreign providers, our criminal prosecutors become powerless,'' Joachim Jacob, the government commissioner overseeing privacy laws, said in a recent radio interview. ''That's the real problem.''
German Jewish leader Paul Spiegel said the efforts are useless without U.S. involvement.
''Washington cuts off interference by pointing to freedom of opinion,'' he said in this week's Focus newsmagazine. ''That's an area where the European governments must apply pressure.''
On the Net:
The German government's Annual Report of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, http://www.bmi.bund.de/publikationen/vsb1999/vsb1999-e.pdf