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German extremists rallying in effort to fight citizenship law

FRANKFURT, March 1 (JTA) — Efforts to grant German citizenship to foreigners living in Germany are galvanizing the extreme right wing here. Indeed, police last weekend detained at least 94 people in an attempt to prevent clashes between right-wing groups and left-wing counter-demonstrators. About a thousand right-wing extremists marched in the eastern German city of Magdeburg over the weekend to protest government plans to reform outdated citizenship laws. In Magdeburg, the bells tolled at numerous local churches to obstruct the sounds of the demonstrators, and a group of about 500 left-wing demonstrators protesting the march of the right-wing clashed with police. Although the overall number of racist attacks by right-wing extremists is on the decline in Germany, this and other similar incidents are reminding Germans that right-wing violence, which rose sharply after unification, remains a major problem. The right-wing demonstrators were particularly angry over a pledge made by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, which he recently dropped, that would enable many foreigners in Germany to acquire dual nationality. The issue of opposing citizenship law reform has struck a chord among youth and unemployed men who feel economically disenfranchised. But mainstream politicians have also opposed the changes. The conservative opposition in Germany has launched a campaign against the legislation, and opposition to the citizenship reform was a major factor in the victory of a conservative coalition last month in the important state election of Hesse. Also in the eastern part of Germany, a group of alleged right-wing radicals beat a 29-year-old Angolan man so badly he needed hospital attention. Police arrested two men after the incident. Two weeks ago, in the eastern German city of Guben, the chase of an Algerian by a group of neo-Nazis ended in the young man’s death after he leaped through a glass door to escape his pursuers. About 400 right-wing extremists, waving flags of a legal far-right-wing party — and hundreds of left-wing counter demonstrators — marched in the eastern German city of Angermuende. Over the weekend, the government’s ombudsperson for foreigner’s affairs, Morales Beck, demanded that the federal and state governments craft a new plan to combat the far-right.