Germans struggle to find tools to combat neo-Nazi violence

BERLIN - With statistics confirming an alarming rise in neo-Nazi violence this year, officials pledged Tuesday to step up police pressure on Germany's far right, including shutting down extremist Web sites where possible.

State and federal interior ministry officials said they had agreed to set up a national database listing anyone convicted of neo-Nazi or anti-foreigner offenses and to take steps to try to block neo-Nazi homepages on the Internet.

''The Internet is becoming - slowly but very noticeably - a platform for extreme-right agitating, and one shouldn't just watch it and do nothing,'' said parliamentary president Wolfgang Thierse.

Proposals were also made to increase police presence at potential hot spots and to improve security at Jewish sites.

Demands also mounted for the government and judicial system to impose tougher penalties on neo-Nazis convicted of attacks on foreigners and other violent crimes.

Berlin's commissioner of foreigner affairs, Barbara John, said robbers or thieves are often punished more severely than someone convicted of causing bodily harm by beating up a foreigner.

''Violence is made too easy, violence remains practically unpunished or punished too little,'' she told WDR radio.

Interior Ministry state secretary Cornelie Wolgast said the issue would also be addressed at a government-sponsored roundtable with business and labor on job creation. Right-wing violence ''has to be ostracized by the entire society,'' she said after a meeting of federal interior, justice and family ministry officials.

Demands for a crackdown on right-wing extremism mounted after an explosion last week at a train station injured 10 recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Police in Duesseldorf said Tuesday the blast was caused by an old hand grenade that had been rebuilt, but did not identify its origin. They also said they had received six claims of responsibility for the attack, but haven't been able to verify any of them.

Officials have said, however, that anti-foreigner sentiment was among the most likely motives.

Right-wing violence directed against foreigners has been on the increase in Germany, especially in the east, which is still suffering from high unemployment and the drastic social changes that followed the collapse of communism.

Two new instances of neo-Nazi activity were reported Tuesday:

Police said they found swastikas spray-painted on 15 cars at a Volkswagen dealership near Leipzig - the second such attack in the area in two weeks. And police on the Baltic Sea resort island of Ruegen reported 10 youths marched down a beach in Goehren Monday night shouting ''Sieg Heil'' and other Nazi slogans.

Statistics released by the government Tuesday showed 157 anti-Semitic offenses in the second quarter of this year, 17 more than in the first three months and 47 more than the same period last year.

Just for the month of June, 129 offenses with extreme-right connections were recorded, including 28 attacks on individuals and two arsons. That was 47 more than in May and 32 more than June 1999.

But out of 144 suspects investigated in June, only 12 were taken into custody and charges were brought against only nine, said lawmaker Ulla Jelpke from the opposition Party of Democratic Socialism.

''In other words, more than 90 percent of the extreme-right perpetrators are running around free again,'' she said, demanding tougher penalties.

Federal prosecutors have recently begun taking over high-profile cases of neo-Nazi violence from state officials in an attempt to demonstrate how seriously the government takes such crimes and to deter copycats.

Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin said new laws were not needed to fight right-wing violence, but that existing laws must be more strictly enforced.

Anyone who commits an anti-foreigner crime must know ''that he'll be brought before the court quickly and punished hard,'' she said in Tuesday's Berliner Zeitung.


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