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Germany: Government Responds To Right-Wing Violence

A series of attacks on foreigners has led the German government to call for a national campaign against right-wing racist violence. The appeal is addressed to law-enforcement agencies, but the public is also being urged not to look the other way when violence occurs. RFE/RL's Roland Eggleston reports.

Munich, 2 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Rightwing extremism in Germany is not new. Over the past decade, federal authorities in Berlin have counted more than 12,000 acts of right-wing violence with more than 30 people killed.

But Justice Minister Herta Daubler-Gmelin said there were indications that this year could post a new record of right-wing violence unless the nation as a whole acts to stop it. Between April and June there were 157 cases of violence attributed to rightwing gangs. Four people died as a result.

In a television interview, the justice minister called on those who witness violence against foreigners not to ignore what they see, but to actively help authorities hunt down the perpetrators. In her words: "We have to stop looking the other way."

The government statements come in response to a bomb attack in the city of Duesseldorf last week in which nine immigrants were injured. That attack was followed by other violence over the weekend. The worst incident was in the eastern town of Eisenach, where two African asylum seekers were kicked and beaten by a gang of self-styled neo-Nazi skinheads, who pursued the fleeing Africans shouting the old Nazi slogan "Sieg Heil!" Three of them have been arrested.

Foreigners are not the only victims of the right-wing gangs. Jews, too, have often been targeted in recent years. The most serious recent incident was the bombing of a synagogue in Erfurt in the spring during Easter. Several people were hurt but no one was killed.

Justice Minister Daubler-Gmelin has promised that the full force of the law will be used against those responsible for violence. She said: "We must also ensure that the punishment is imposed soon after the crime so that the right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis know that this society will not tolerate such actions and that the state will proceed against them with all measures at its disposal."

Heinz Fromm, the president of Germany's internal security service (the Office for the Protection of the Constitution), warned a few days ago that animosity towards foreigners appears to be growing in some circles. "These groups keep black lists, including the names of well-known actors who are identified as Jews," he said.

The president of the employers federation, Dieter Hundt, said more should be done to emphasize the positive contribution made by the foreign population. He said Germany would be in chaos if the resident Turkish population withdrew its labor. Many of the Turks in Germany are employed in such jobs as road-building, trash disposal, and other essential services.

Government officials met in Berlin yesterday to discuss right wing terrorism but failed to offer any new concrete measures to combat it. One measure discussed was providing more funds for educational programs in eastern Germany, where much of the violence occurs.