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Demonstrations mark 20th anniversary of racist riot

Demonstrators in the northeastern German city of Rostock are marking the 20th anniversary of a mob attack against asylum seekers. The outbreak of anti-foreigner violence in 1992 was the worst in German postwar history.

At least 1,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Rostock in the northern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania on Saturday, where they brought a memorial plaque to the city hall, in remembrance of the anti-foreigner riot in the district of Lichtenhagen.

The organizers of Saturday's demonstration, called "The Problem is Racism," said that some 4,500 people had shown up for the memorial event. They said that racism was "not a fringe phenomenon" and that in 1992 it had spread to "the middle of society" and was "fueled by middle-class parties and media."

Worst hate attack since WWII

In August 1992, just two years after German reunification, hundreds of people threw stones and firebombs at a building - called the "Sunflower House" - used by asylum seekers, most of them Sinti and Roma. Bystanders cheered on the assailants, yelling "foreigners out."

Local authorities did not respond decisively to the attacks, with reinforced riot police first moving in to stop the violence a day after it had started. The reinforcements from Hamburg withdrew, believing they had the pacified the area. Assailants then returned, setting a neighboring hostel on fire with at least 100 Vietnamese guest workers still inside. The Vietnamese residents were only able to make a rooftop escape at the last minute. No one was hurt in the fire.

Memorial plaque dedicated

The Sunflower House Photo: Bernd Wüstneck dpa/lmv

The overcroweded Sunflower House could not provide proper facilities for its residents

The memorial plaque was a replica of one that a French-Jewish group had tried to hang there in the fall of 1992, shortly after the anti-foreigner attacks.

The "Sons and Daughters of the Deported Jews of France," led by Franco-German journalist Beate Klarsfeld, had sought to memorialize the attacks as well as the 3,000 Sinti and Roma killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1944.

Police detained the group as they tried to hang up the original plaque, which the authorities subsequently removed. The plaque has been lost. Current Rostock Mayor Roland Methling made the decision to dedicate the new replica plaque.

slk/ccp (AFP, epd, dpa)