Aug 24, 2007
BERLIN, Germany (Reuters) -- German police have charged the leader of a leading far-right political party with inciting racial hatred after he recommended Adolf Hitler's former deputy for the Nobel peace prize.
Police in the eastern city of Jena said on Friday they had filed the charge against Udo Voigt, head of the National Democratic Party (NPD), after he proposed the late Rudolf Hess for the prestigious award during a speech last weekend.
If convicted of incitement, Voigt could face a jail term of up to three years or a fine, police said.
Voigt made the comment in Jena last Saturday as he marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Hess.
That evening, a mob of 50 attacked and chased eight Indian men through the town of Muegeln, east of Jena.
Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the Muegeln attack, which has prompted a fresh round of soul-searching in Germany about far-right violence, and renewed calls for action against it.
Far-right attacks have been a recurring problem in the poorer eastern states of Germany since reunification in 1990.
The NPD has no seats in Germany's lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, but is represented in the legislatures of two eastern states, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Following the Muegeln attacks, Kurt Beck, leader of Germany's Social Democrats (SPD), urged legal experts to re-examine whether there was any possibility of banning the NPD. The SPD shares power with Merkel's conservatives.
A previous effort to ban the NPD failed in 2003 when a minority of judges at the country's highest court voted to reject the government's case after it emerged that some of the testimony was from government informants within the party.
Merkel said on Friday any attempt to pursue a ban would need to be weighed up with great care, and that she would wait on the Interior Ministry's recommendations on the matter.
"I found the previous experience we had with this highly disagreeable," she told a news conference. "I definitely don't want a repeat of last time. So I'm a bit skeptical."
SPD Vice-Chancellor Franz Muentefering said it only made sense to pursue a ban if there was a good chance of winning.
"There's no question a group like (the NPD) is a disgrace to our country," he said. "But they can't be allowed to win again."
Members of the NPD in Saxony's state parliament provoked outrage in 2005 by walking out of a commemoration for the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp and calling the Allied air raids on Dresden in 1945 a "bombing holocaust".
Hess was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Nuremberg trials and died in Spandau prison in 1987.