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New German party belittles reports of neo-Nazism in army

FRANKFURT, Jan. 26 (JTA) — Leaders of a new right-wing party said recent reports of neo-Nazi incidents in the German army are exaggerated. The leaders of the party, Union of Free Citizens — Freedom Offensive, accused German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe of overreacting to the incidents, which include producing videos with anti-Semitic and racist content and distributing neo-Nazi literature. In addition to an ongoing investigation into the incidents, Ruehe has called for more political education in the army to counteract neo-Nazism there. The party’s leader, Heinz Kappel, has close political contacts to the Austrian populist Jorg Haider. Haider, whose party has garnered 20% of the vote in Austrian elections, has made favorable references to Nazi policies and has attended reunions of former Waffen-SS soldiers. The new party, which formed over the weekend when two existing parties merged, opposes further European integration. It advocates nationalism, tax cuts, greater restrictions on foreigners and abolishment of the right to political asylum. Similar to Haider, Kappel and party co-founder Manfred Brunner were formerly members of the Liberal Party, a centrist party in many European countries with economically conservative but socially liberal positions. Kappel and Brunner’s background gives their party more political credibility than previous extremist parties launched in Germany since World War II, whose attempts to enter the country’s Parliament have failed — in part as a result of their extremist positions and their tolerance of neo-Nazis and anti-Semitic propaganda. The new union, which has about a thousand members, is attracting dissidents from established conservative parties.