DRESDEN, GERMANY -- In one of the toughest crackdowns on right-wing extremists since the current wave of attacks on foreigners began about a month ago, police swept through 107 dwellings across the state of Saxony yesterday searching for weapons and neo-Nazi propaganda.
Seven people were arrested as about 500 police officers concentrated their efforts on gathering evidence against 47 alleged radicals being held in connection with attacks on refugee housing in Rostock, one of the flash points in the wave of anti-foreigner violence.
"The radical right is a threat to the democracy of Germany," said Heinz Eggert, Saxony's interior minister, whose department coordinated the raids. "We have to root out the problem or this little sore will spread until it becomes a real disease."
He said police should be able to use force against the extremists. "The last few years have shown that political pressure is not influential enough," he said. "We cannot afford to have this [anti-foreigner attacks] in Germany."
"Saxony should not be a peaceful place for the radical right," he said, adding that they should be under "continual police pressure."
Police raided 107 dwellings in 15 Saxon cities, including Dresden, Leipzig, Hoyerswerda, Bautzen and Chemnitz.
Attacks on foreigners or their shelter homes have occurred in nearly all of these cities. Hoyerswerda, where violence against foreign "guest workers" began more than a year ago, has become hallowed ground for neo-Nazis.
A special commission against right-wing extremism was set up in response to attacks in Hoyerswerda, and yesterday's raids in part were a result of its work.
"We have learned from Hoyerswerda," Mr. Eggert said. He said that more than 90 percent of the attackers in Saxony have been identified.
Firebomb attacks led by neo-Nazis and right-wing radicals have occurred almost nightly in Germany since they were sparked Aug. 22 in Rostock. Most, but by no means all, have been in the former East Germany, where the economy is stagnant and unemployment or underemployment approaches 30 percent.
Ten foreigners have been killed and 700 injured this year in attacks attributed to rising anti-foreigner prejudices.
The violence has sparked a national debate on asylum rights in Germany, which are constitutionally guaranteed and virtually unlimited. Restriction of asylum rights is widely championed, leading one German newspaper to ask whether "thick-headed Nazis are already determining the constitution."
Chancellor Helmut Kohl has called the attacks "barbaric." But the courts are sending ambiguous signals by giving relatively light sentences to attackers, even in cases where foreigners have been killed.
Immigration into Germany is expected to top 500,000 this year, twice the number of 1991.