The German government has voiced concern that far-right activists in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia may incite violence with plans to hold a so-called "Muhammad cartoon contest" and to stage demonstrations outside mosques in the run-up to a regional election there on May 13.
SPIEGEL has learned that Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich warned of a confrontation between Salafists and right-wing extremists which he said could have unforeseeable consequences for public safety.
Pro-NRW, which has been categorized as an extremist right-wing group by the domestic intelligence agency, has said it plans to display the cartoons outside 25 mosques in the state.
Friedrich told lawmakers that this deliberate provocation would inflame tensions and lead to violent clashes, and that German embassies and companies operating abroad may also be affected, similar to the protests in Muslim countries following the publication in 2005 of Muhammad cartoons in Danish newspapers.
Friedrich's state secretary, Klaus-Dieter Fritsche, has telephoned the North Rhine-Westphalia government several times in recent days to discuss the problem. The state's interior minister, Ralf Jäger, said: "The so-called cartoon contest is deliberately aimed at provoking Muslims." He said he had instructed police to prevent demonstrators from protesting in the immediate proximity of mosques.
Fears That Salafists Will Heighten Tensions
Security authorities are particularly concerned because radical Salafist groups, which have been courting publicity recently by distributing free copies of the Koran in inner cities across Germany, may have an interest in fuelling confrontations in response to Pro NRW's activities.
Pro NRW showed cartoons of Muhammad on Saturday at demonstrations in the cities of Essen and Gelsenkirchen. Some 100 protestors attended the demonstrations, and they were outnumberd by hundreds of counter-demonstrators, reports said. There was no violence.
"All democrats agree xenophobic incitement has no place here," said Jäger.
Police had monitored both demonstrations to check whether the cartoons on display were in breach of the German constitution. That would be the case if they insulted a religious community in a way that posed a threat to public peace. But a police spokeswoman said no laws had been broken.
The police had stopped the demonstrators from getting near mosques, and the Pro NRW demonstrators were also banned from displaying reprints of the original Danish cartoons that had led to worldwide protests.
Pro NRW issued a statement on Sunday saying it would take legal action against the ban on showing Muhammad cartoons.
"We won't accept this blatant breach of freedom of speech and artistic expression," Jörg Uckermann, the deputy Pro NRW chairman, said in a statement.