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Bid to ban German far right fails

Udo Voigt, left, head of far-right German NPD, and his lawyer Horst Mahler celebrate
Udo Voigt, left, head of far-right German NPD, and his lawyer Horst Mahler celebrate

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KARLSRUHE, Germany (Reuters) -- Germany's top court threw out a government bid to ban a far-right party Tuesday, declaring that evidence from paid informants was tainted.

The government and both houses of parliament, had tried for two years to ban the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD), comparing it to the Nazis and accusing it of inciting racial hatred after a wave of attacks on foreigners in 2000.

However, the constitutional court suspended proceedings a year ago after it emerged the government's case included testimony and speeches from paid informants. The NPD said the government had told the informants to incite racial hatred and recruit violent neo-Nazis to strengthen its case.

In the face of defeat the government offered to present new arguments, but on Tuesday presiding judge Winfried Hassemer said the court had refused to restart the case and threw it out.

Only three of the seven judges voted to reject the government's case, but the court would have needed a two-thirds majority to have continued.

Hassemer, who voted to dismiss the case, said the decision was not a judgment on whether the NPD was unconstitutional, but simply reflected dissatisfaction with the government's methods.

"The state's presence in a party leadership makes influence on decision-making and activities inevitable," he said.

Interior Minister Otto Schily, the case's chief sponsor, said the government would not launch another bid to ban the party, saying the court's conditions were too strict.

Bavarian Interior Minister Guenter Beckstein, among those who initiated the case, said he was saddened by the result.

"It diminishes democracy's ability to defend itself... I still consider the NPD an unconstitutional, aggressive party."

The NPD has had little political success. Its best post World War II result of 4.3 percent of the vote in the 1969 federal election was still short of the five percent threshold for parliamentary representation.

But as an officially recognized party, it receives state funding and is allowed to march in German cities.

The NPD has about 6,000 members and is viewed as one of the most extreme of several far-right parties that have benefited from a rise in unemployment and an economic slowdown.

The government has said the party whips up racism and has compared it to Hitler's embryonic Nazi party in the 1920s. The party wants policies favoring ethnic Germans, an end to immigration, and is vehemently anti-Jewish.

About 100 people have been killed in far-right violence since 1990, directed predominantly at dark-skinned people.

The racist attacks have been especially frequent in formerly communist east, where extremists have even set up "nationally liberated zones" where they say foreigners are banned.

Gerhard Vogler, chairman of the police officers union, said he feared the failure of the case could embolden the far right.

"I forecast the suspension of this case will give right-wing extremists a new boost," he said.

Opposition conservative MP Martin Hohmann described Tuesday's court decision as a "painful own goal" for Schily. The ex-communist PDS described the government's failure as a political disaster.

The case was the first bid to ban a political party in 50 years. Aiming to prevent a repeat of Hitler's rise to power through the ballot box, the framers of Germany's post-war constitution allowed the state to ban parties deemed undemocratic. Only two -- the communist KPD and the neo-Nazi SRP -- have been banned.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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