Escalating neo-Nazi violence forces refugee issue to forefront in Germany

September 06, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

BONN, Germany -- Against a backdrop of nightly firebombings and neo-Nazis hurling stones at foreigners, a skittish Germany is locked in a battle with its own past as it struggles to cope politically, psychologically and physically with an ever-swelling tide of foreign asylum-seekers.

For the past two weeks, the formerly Communist eastern part of the country has been rocked by racist violence by mostly young right-wing extremists who, authorities say, are becoming bolder, more brutal and -- on the surface, at least -- more popular.

Police said yesterday that neo-Nazis had launched new assaults on refugee homes in at least 10 east German cities.

A crowd of 150 young extremists threw rocks and firebombs at a refugee processing center in Eisenhuettenstadt, near the Polish border. They were driven back by police, who arrested seven people.

In the northern city of of Greifswald, a kindergarten that was to house some of the refugees seeking asylum in Germany was burned down during the night. Police there said they had no suspects.

Firebomb and rock-throwing attacks also were reported in the east German cities of Brandenburg, Koblenz, Luebbenau, Prenzlau, Kremmen, Neustadt, Wernigerode and Gandow-Lenzen. Police said they arrested 11 people in Kremmen.

No serious injuries were reported in the overnight attacks, but the violence bolstered calls for tougher laws to fight the unrest.

When the Bundestag, or lower house of Parliament, returns from summer recess tomorrow, the refugee issue is expected to dominate debate as Chancellor Helmut Kohl's center-right coalition seeks to tighten the country's liberal asylum laws.

"If it goes any farther, if the politicians don't change things, then Germany could repeat its history," said a spokesman for the radical-right Free German Workers' Party, who would not give his name in a telephone interview.

Police had previously reported right-wing attacks on refugee centers before dawn Friday in Eisenhuettenstadt; in Luebben, about 75 miles southeast of Berlin; in Biesenthal outside the eastern part of the capital, and in the western city of Leverkusen, where ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union are housed.

Eisenhuettenstadt saw the worst of the violence. About 200 police and border guards fought for two hours with 60 rock-throwing extremists who tried to storm a refugee center that had been attacked a week before. Five police cars were wrecked, injuring one police officer, and four radicals were arrested.

Pressure to quell the spate of attacks against refugee hostels grew Friday as both the United States and Russia expressed concern over the spreading violence. Police, but no foreigners, have been injured in the recent incidents.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that it was "following with concern the growth of nationalistic and right-wing extremist feelings in Germany . . . accompanied by pogroms and violent actions against foreigners."

The U.S. State Department also issued a statement, saying that "apprehensions about this phenomenon" had been raised "repeatedly in meetings with German officials."

The opposition Social Democrats, having recently abandoned their strict stance against any limits to the asylum law, called Friday for Mr. Kohl to hold a crisis meeting on racism with key politicians, church and community leaders.

Mr. Kohl's own Christian Democrats called the attacks on foreigners a disgrace to Germany.

"We demand that the full force of the law is used against anyone who endangers the lives of people, sets houses on fire or incites hatred against foreigners," the Christian Democratic Union said in a statement Friday after a policy meeting.

Civil servants charged with processing the refugees also demanded action and criticized police for moving too slowly.

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