Tue, May 23, 2006 - Page 9 News List

New debate rages over xenophobia in Germany

DPA , BERLIN

With the World Cup less than three weeks away, a spate of racist attacks has led to a debate whether Germany can live up to the tournament's motto: A Time to Make Friends.

In the latest case, a Turkish-born Berlin politician was hospitalized after being hit on the head with a bottle by two men who verbally abused him as a "damn foreigner, damn Turk."

Giyasettin Sayan, 56, a naturalized German who has lived in Berlin for nearly 30 years and is a member of the local parliament, was attacked in the suburb of Lichtenberg -- an area known for its neo-Nazi activity.

According to Germany's domestic intelligence service, the Verfassungsschutz, the number of neo-Nazis and other violent right-wing extremists has grown over the past year.

Last year there were 4,100 documented neo-Nazis compared with 3,800 in the previous year, the newspaper Bild am Sonntag quoted from a Verfassungschutz report that was due for release yesterday.

The number of right-wing extremists prepared to resort to violence rose from 10,000 to 10,400, according to the report.

Neo-Nazis reportedly plan to hold a series of rallies during the month-long World Cup, which kicks off in Munich on June 9.

One is planned for June 10 in the Ruhr area town of Gelsenkirchen, another for June 21 in the eastern city of Leipzig when Iran and Angola meet.

The magazine Der Spiegel said the neo-Nazis wanted to use the Leipzig rally to demonstrate their sympathy for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has been widely condemned by the international community for casting doubt on the Holocaust and denying Israel's right to exist.

Deputy Chancellor Franz Muentefering called on Saturday on Germans to combat right-wing extremism and hostility toward foreigners.

"We must never again give the brown shirts an opportunity," he said, referring to the uniform worn by the paramilitary organization of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party.

"No one should need to be afraid just because he is different from others. That has to be made perfectly clear in a society like ours," Muentefering told a meeting of the Berlin Social Democrats.

The current debate about hostility toward foreigners was triggered by a former spokesman for the German government under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who warned World Cup visitors to avoid parts of the state of Brandenburg because of racial attacks.

"There are small and medium-sized towns in Brandenburg and elsewhere where I would not advise anyone with a different skin color to go," Uwe-Karsten Heye said.

"There is a chance they might not get out alive," Heye said in an an interview with German radio.

Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, has the highest per capita rate of violent neo-Nazi crime in all of Germany's 16 federal states.

Politicians initially criticized Heye for scaremongering and exaggerating the danger posed by extremists, but later admitted he had a point.

Early last week, a court in the Brandenburg town of Senftenberg handed down a 13-month jail sentence to a German neo-Nazi who goose-stepped up to a group of Polish tourists on the main square and began punching and kicking them. Three of the victims suffered head injuries.

In another case, two men are in custody for the savage beating of an Ethiopian-born German citizen near Berlin last month. Federal prosecutors took over the inquiry amid national shock at the night-time beating in the Brandenburg capital of Potsdam.

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