Neo-Nazis Enter State Assembly Germany Alarmed at Far-Right Gains in East

Sunday's regional election gains for the far-right NPD party are an embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel and a fresh sign that the extremists are gaining influence in Germany's depressed east. Many there feel abandoned by the mainstream parties after years of mass unemployment and depopulation.

NPD leading candidate Udo Pastörs will enter the state parliament Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
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NPD leading candidate Udo Pastörs will enter the state parliament Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

Germany's far-right National Democratic Party, which wants to repatriate foreigners and believes Germany should stop atoning for the Holocaust, won seats in a state parliament on Sunday in the former communist east, tapping into general discontent with Chancellor Angela Merkel's government and with the depressed local economy.

The neo-Nazi NPD won 7.3 percent in Chancellor Angela Merkel's home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania on the Baltic Sea coast, vaulting the 5 percent threshold needed to enter the assembly, according to preliminary official figures.

The result means far-right parties are now represented in three of eastern Germany's five state parliaments. The NPD entered the Saxony state parliament in 2004 and another far-right party, the German People's Union (DVU), has seats in Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin.

"The fight for Germany continues," NPD chairman Udo Voigt said in a video statement on the party's website, noting that far right has gained a foothold in a quarter of Germany's 16 state parliaments. The DVU has one deputy in the regional assembly of the western city state of Bremen.

The secretary general of the center-left Social Democratic Party, Hubertus Heil, likened the NPD's campaigners to Hitler's brown-shirted paramilitary Sturmabteilung (SA) organization. "They have troops of thugs that can only be described as SA," said Heil.

"Far-right criminals don't belong in parliament, they belong in court," said Heil, referring to accusations of intimidation and violence by NPD supporters against campaigners from opposing parties during the election campaign. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania's premier Harald Ringstorff of the Social Democrats said the result was disastrous for his state.

The German Jewish Council called for a renewed attempt to ban the NPD. A previous attempt by the government to have it outlawed failed in 2002 because some of the NPD members called to testify turned out to be government informants.

Election analysts attributed the far-right gains in part to discontent with Merkel's "grand coalition" of conservative Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, perceived as having failed to implement meaningful economic reforms since it was formed in October 2005. The coalition has also been criticized for imposing tax hikes.

Discontent in the east

General discontent in the east, which has suffered from depopulation and mass unemployment in the almost 17 years since unification, has fuelled support for fringe parties, especially the far right, which has been wooing bored young voters through rock concerts and local festivals. Election data showed 15 pct of 18 to 24 year olds voted NPD in Mecklenburg.

The NPD has also exploited xenophobic attitudes in east, where many blame immigrants for their economic problems. In addition, resistance to the far right isn't as strong in eastern Germany as in the west because responsibility for the Holocaust wasn't addressed as intensely there during the decades of communist rule.

In an election in Berlin on the same day as the Mecklenburg vote, the NPD entered five of the city's 12 district councils but failed to win enough votes to enter Berlin's state assembly.

Berlin's popular Social Democratic Mayor Klaus Wowereit managed to hold onto power and may switch coalition partners after heavy losses for the former communist Left Party with whom he has shared power since 2001.

In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where Merkel has her local constituency and where she hosted US President George W. Bush for a barbecue in July, premier Harald Ringstorff narrowly clung onto power despite a more than 10 point drop in support for his Social Democrats.



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