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11 March 2005
BERLIN - The German parliament on Friday approved a ban on neo-Nazi marches at Holocaust sites and memorials to Third Reich victims amid fears that rightists plan to hijack upcoming 60th anniversary ceremonies marking the end of the Second World War.
Freedom of assembly laws will be tightened under the bill approved by both the government and main opposition conservatives in the Bundestag which will allow authorities to ban neo-Nazi rallies.
Marches which seek to glorify or play down Nazi era crimes can also be banned under the law.
Final approval is expected from the chamber's upper house, the Bundesrat, well before the 8 May anniversary of Nazi Germany's 1945 capitulation.
The move comes after Neo-Nazi groups applied to march past the soon-to-be-opened Holocaust memorial in central Berlin and through the historic Brandenburg Gate - a practice favoured by torch-carrying brownshirts during the era of Adolf Hitler.
"This sends the wrong picture of Germany around the world," said Bavarian Interior Minister Guenther Beckstein.
German Federal Interior Minister Otto Schily welcomed the law but criticised the fact that protests at the Brandenburg Gate would still be allowed. Berlin authorities say the 18th century symbol Germany's capital is exempt from the ban given that it has nothing to do with the Holocaust or victims of the Third Reich.
The German Laender, or federal states, are currently compiling lists of sites where neo-Nazi demonstrations will be banned.
Brandenburg state plans to ban far-right protests at the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp and at a military cemetery in Halbe, south of Berlin, where tens of thousands of Third Reich troops killed in the last major battle of the Second World War are buried. Halbe has become a place of pilgrimage for skinheads and neo-Nazis in past years.
German lawmakers were jolted into action after a protest called by the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) in Dresden last month, marking anniversary of the city's firebombing in 1945, drew at least 5,000 rightists making it the biggest neo-Nazi march in Germany since the 1950s.
About 50,000 people took part in a separate demonstration in Dresden to remember the estimated 35,000 people killed in the attack. This mainstream protest sought to distance itself from manipulation of the event by the far-right.
The NPD won 9.2 percent in Saxony state elections last year and now has 12 seats in the state parliament in Dresden.
Subject: German news
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