Left-wing extremists marred an unusually large German demonstration against racist violence Sunday by throwing stones and eggs at President Richard von Weizsacker, forcing him to interrupt his speech.
Weizsacker resumed his speech after a 15-minute pause, during which police charged into the crowd to push back a handful of militants hurling projectiles at the podium.
Chancellor Helmut Kohl was among the 300,000 Germans gathered at the Brandenberg Gate to express opposition to recent neo-Nazi violence against foreigners and anti-Semitic vandalism.
The president called on Germany to defend democracy.
“We should never forget that the Weimar Republic failed not because there were too many Nazis but because there were too few democrats,” he said.
The rally was held one day before the anniversary of both the 1938 Kristallnacht Nazi pogrom and the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.
“Those who claim to use violence in the name of German interests misuse the name of our nation,” said Weizsacker. Striking a note of optimism, he said: “We have no reason for fear: The Germany of today is not the Weimar Republic.”
Kohl said the rioters sought to damage the image of Germany and Berlin, “but this will not succeed.”
A leader of the Jewish community indirectly called for the resignation of two German leaders who declined to take part in the demonstration.
Michael Friedmann of the Council of Jewish Communities in Germany was referring to Finance Minister Theo Waigel and Bavarian Prime Minister Max Streibel, who stayed away from the rally, in which all major German parties took part.