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Germany introduces heavier penalties for racist criminals

Germany is introducing stricter laws on racist violence in response to a series of murders blamed on the neo-Nazi cell NSU. The amendments come amid a new wave of xenophobic attacks against refugees.

The new laws, which go into force on Saturday, include granting greater powers to federal prosecutors in cases of "hate crimes," such as those committed with a racist motivation, and the introduction of heavier penalties for such offenses.

According to information released by the German government, federal prosecutors will also be able to intervene earlier in investigations of crimes where racism or xenophobia are suspected to have been in play.

They will also have the power to launch joint operations in cases where there are disputes between German states as to who is responsible for an investigation.

The amendments were based on recommendations made by

a parliamentary committee set up to look into mistakes made

during investigations into a series of 10 murders alleged to have been carried out by a neo-Nazi cell, the "National Socialist Underground" (NSU), between 2000 and 2007. Nine people with a migrant background were among the victims.

Police and intelligence agencies have been accused of being too slow to look for perpetrators from the far-right scene, initially assuming that the murders had been carried out by Turkish organized crime organizations. Authorities were also criticized for failing to cooperate with one another effectively.

Rise in xenophobic violence

The changes come as Germany experiences

a wave of xenophobic crime,

with more than 200 refugee homes attacked in the first half of 2015.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas Poto: Maurizio Gambarini/dpa

Maas says Germany must do more to protect refugees

Speaking on Friday to the daily "Saarbrücker Zeitung," German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said there must be "zero tolerance" for such crimes.

"Anyone who sets fire to refugee homes or attacks people who have lost everything in their native countries and are looking for shelter with us must feel the full weight of the law," Maas said.

In further comments in an article written for the Madsack media group, Maas called the recent attacks on refugee housing in Germany a "disgraceful record."

"Every attack on a refugee home is an attack on our society and on our fundamental order of freedom. For this reason, every form of xenophobia should be met by protest - the more decisive and loud, the better," he wrote, adding that attacks such as those in the cities of

Mölln

and

Solingen

20 years ago should never be repeated.

He said the legal reforms aimed to make federal prosecutors more alert to a possible racist or xenophobic motivation behind crimes.

In the most recent attack on Thursday night, unknown assailants tried to set alight to an apartment building designated as refugee housing in the town of Lunzenau in Saxony. They succeeded in burning the hedge around the property and broke several windows.

tj/bk (epd, dpa, AFP)

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