Skinheads vs. Hooligans Germany Admits Neo-Nazis May Try to Disrupt the World Cup

German officials have admitted for the first time that members of the far right may try to cause trouble when the World Cup soccer final takes place here in June. But Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble says his security forces are ready -- for foreign hooligans, too.

At a conference on security just 10 weeks before the world soccer championship, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble admitted on Thursday that neo-Nazi groups were planning to "use the World Cup as a means of raising their profile." Tournament planners had previously downplayed the risk from the German far right, but the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel reported on Thursday that neo-Nazi groups were planning to hold street demonstrations during the World Cup.

"The right-wing extremists believe that German police will be 'a weakened opponent' under the strain of policing the tournament," wrote the paper.

The far-right NPD and other neo-Nazi groups apparently want to stage a "freedom of speech" march in Gelsenkirchen, in the Ruhr Valley, and further demonstrations in Leipzig, Berlin, and Nuremberg, to show solidarity with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has openly denied the Holocaust and suggested that Israel should be "wiped off the map."

Gelsenkirchen, Leipzig, Berlin, and Nuremberg will all host games in the tournament, which opens in Germany on June 9.

The newspaper also reported that some elements of the far right want to hand out a CD of songs with the face of Fritz Walter, captain of Germany's world-championship 1954 team, who fought for Germany during World War II. Walter isn't a typical neo-Nazi symbol; former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called him an "embodiment of the impeccable and fair sportsman," when the athlete died in 2002. But he's considered a hero for lifting German spirits with a World Cup victory less than a decade after Hitler fell from power and Germany was left in ruins.

Schäuble promised to make the tournament safe without turning it into "a security World Cup." But he also has foreign hooligans to worry about -- especially from Poland, where soccer fans might want to pick a fight with German skinheads. Germany is considering suspending an European Union agreement providing for passport-free travel, Schäuble said on Thursday, in order to weed out potential hooligans.

"Those who want to cause disturbances," he said, "should just stay at home."


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