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German President Gauck challenges far-right

President Joachim Gauck has urged Germany to resist far-right extremists without fear. His remarks precede the 20th anniversary of anti-foreigner rioting in Rostock that shocked Germany shortly after its reunification.

German head of state Gauck told the Ostsee Zeiting newspaper on Monday that at next weekend's remembrance in his home city he would show that Germany had "trained" really hard to develop a "defensive culture" against far-right extremism, and that "we will remain active."

"We won't hand over our fear as a present to the far-extremists; we won't let them prevail," Gauck said on Monday.

Gauck speaking at a ceremony

Germany has learned to resist the far-right, says Gauck

In late August, 1992, hundreds of far-right extremists, applauded by several thousand spectators, surrounded and attacked a high-rise apartment block in Rostock-Lichtenhagen used as a central hostel for asylum-seekers in the former communist East German port city.

Some 150 inhabitants, including Vietnamese who had previously been contract workers in East Germany, were forced to flee when rioters fire-bombed the building while local police held back. The incident during nationwide debate on asylum policy ranked as the worst anti-foreigner rioting in post-war Germany.

Rioting 20 years ago inexcusable

Gauck told the newspaper on Monday that the rioting was inexcusable but its roots lay in under-developed climate of civic debate in former East Germany where authorities proclaimed and enforced their version of "truth" by violent means.

Romania asylum-seekers were evacuated by bus from the Rostock-Lichtenhagen hostel

In 1992 asylum-seekers were forced to flee Rostock's hostel

In the early 1990s, Gauck said, many eastern Germans lacked employment and orientation. Some were susceptible to misguided "black and white" thinking, he said.

In another interview, Gauck told the Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper on Monday that any fresh application by federal authorities to Germany's Constitutional Court to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) must be "very thoroughly" prepared.

In 2003, the court in Karlsruhe rejected a previous prohibition application on the grounds that evidence had been tainted by the authorities' use of informants. Germany's constitution sets high hurdles for the banning of political parties.

Calls for a NPD prohibition have surged since the detection last year of a neo-Nazi gang that had murdered nine immigrants, mostly of Turkish origin, and a policewoman between 2000 and 2007.

Starting Monday, Gauck, who is normally based in the capital Berlin, will spend four days in Bonn, Germany's former post-war seat of government. The German head of state's second official residence is located in Bonn's Villa Hammerschmidt on the banks of the Rhine.

ipj/mz (epd, dpa, Reuters)

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