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Germany Inches Closer to Enacting Tougher Measures Against Far Right

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Germany inched closer this weekend to enacting tougher measures against right-wing radicals, following attacks by neo-Nazis in the eastern German city of Magdeburg last week.

Six people were injured, three of them seriously, when a band of young Germans roaming the streets of Magdeburg on May 12 attacked five Africans and began beating them up.

When a group of young Turks living in Magdeburg rushed to help the victims, the incident developed into a series of fistfights throughout the center of town.

During the disturbances, right-wing skinheads rampaged through the city, harassing foreigners, smashing windows and damaging property. They also broke into an ice cream parlor and a steak house owned by Turks, vandalizing the property.

Although a 300-strong police force was rushed to the scene, it took police until the late hours of the day to put an end to the fighting.

But on the next day, in a move that led to widespread criticism of their actions, the police released all 49 suspects who had been arrested.

The releases prompted quick and sharp condemnations from German officials, including President Richard von Wcizsacker and Rudolf Scharping, the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, who is a leading contender in the elections for the chancellorship to take place in October.

Ignatz Bubis, chairman of the Jewish community, also criticized the Magdeburg police.

GOVERNMENT TO ASK FOR LONGER SENTENCES

Apparently bowing to public pressure, a senior official at the office of Chancellor Helmut Kohl announced Sunday that the government would initiate legislation calling for five-year prison sentences, instead of the current three-year maximum, for anyone “causing (even) simple bodily harm” as a result of hate-inspired attacks.

Explaining the move, the official said “it is time for action rather than embarrassment.”

Roman Herzog, the presidential candidate of the ruling Christian Democratic Party, warned Sunday that the growing tide of xenophobic hate crimes was harming Germany’s reputation abroad.

By Sunday, the Magdeburg police arrested one 19-year-old suspect on charges of organizing and leading last week’s disturbances.

In a related development, Kohl’s center-right governing coalition agreed last Friday to seek legislation that would make Holocaust denial a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany welcomed the proposed legislation, which is expected to be approved later this week by the lower house of Parliament, the Bundestag.

In a statement, the council supported the new proposal, stating that “freedom of expression ends where the dignity of other people is violated.”

The proposed legislation followed a ruling last month by Germany’s highest court that freedom of speech does not extend to those espousing the so-called “Auschwitz lie.”

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