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February 26, 2009

Berlin's interior minister has disclosed restricted information on undercover infiltration of the far-right NPD. His claims have caused outrage among leading politicians and set off a new dispute on banning the party.

NPD protestors waving flags
Many politicians would ultimately like to see the NPD bannedImage: AP

Berlin's interior minister Ehrhart Koerting has defended his statements calling for an end to undercover police informants within the far-right extremist party NPD.

"I find it to be objectionable if, for instance, the head of Berlin's NPD was a police informant," Koerting told the newspaper Tagesspiegel on Thursday, Feb. 26. "It's not right for a democracy to indirectly lead unconstitutional parties."

Koerting -- a member of the Social Democrats (SPD) -- earlier this week said that he and his three SPD counterparts from Schleswig-Holstein, Saxony-Anhalt and Rhineland-Palatinate had shut down their undercover agents in top NPD bodies.

This would allow them to try again to ban the NPD, Koerting had told the left-wing newspaper Neues Deutschland.

Germany's previous center-left government had tried to outlaw the party. But the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe dismissed the case in 2003. It said that the government had relied on evidence supplied by secret informants paid to incriminate the party.

Breaking a taboo

The federal interior minister and member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Wolfgang Schaeuble sharply criticized Koerting's statements. Divulging facts about undercover operations made it harder for the federal security agency BfV to do their work. This was "grossly negligent," Schaeuble's spokesman Stefan Paris said.

Judges at the Federal Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court refused to ban the NPD in 2003Image: AP

"Talk is silver, silence is golden, Mr. Koerting," Paris said.

Brandenburg's interior minister Joerg Schoenbohm from the CDU said Koerting's statements "broke a taboo" in the conference of interior ministers by divulging information.

But Koerting said his statements corresponded to the openly presented line agreed on by the SPD interior ministers in 2007. It had stated that police informants in top NPD positions were inacceptable.

New ban?

Koerting's remarks have sparked a renewed discussion on whether the NPD should be banned. The move is disputed among the federal states. Schoenbohm said there was no majority in the upper and lower houses of parliament for new ban proceedings. The debate about it would only benefit the NPD in this election year, he said.

Politicians from the SPD and the opposition Greens said it was important to pull together on the issue. Green party head Claudia Roth said the debate about a new ban could not become "a place for tactical profiling among democrats." She said pulling out informants could increase the chances of success in new ban proceedings.

"But it's clear that all democratic forces have to act in concert here," Roth said. Konrad Freiberg, head of the German police officers' union, agreed.

"Nothing would play into the hands of right-wing extremists more than a quarrel among democrats," Freiberg said.

Paris said the conference of interior ministers in April 2008 had agreed on battling the NPD with all democratic means. The consensus had been to distance themselves from further ban proceedings, he said.

Most conservative politicians said they were in favor of an NPD ban only if it had chance of success. But they said they would continue using police informants in order to have adequate material.

The SPD expert on domestic affairs Dieter Wiefelspuetz said, however, police moles were overestimated. He told the newspaper Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung on Thursday that their significance as sources were "excessively overrated" as they usually did not deliver any reliable information on the party.

"Anyone who says otherwise has no clue," Wiefelspuetz said.

Far-right extremist sentenced to prison term

Meanwhile, the Munich district court on Wednesday sentenced lawyer and right-wing extremist Horst Mahler on three charges of inciting racial hatred and denying the Holocaust. The 73-year-old was sentenced to six years in prison.

Horst Mahler
Mahler has been repeatedly sentenced for Holocaust denialImage: AP

The leading judge Martin Rieder said Mahler was "entirely unrepentant." In his closing words lasting some 10 hours, Mahler said he would "not cease to battle the Holocaust lie."

Mahler was charged after holding a public speech in which he denied the Holocaust took place and posting Holocaust denials on the Internet.

Mahler reacted to the sentence with a snicker. He was directly arrested in the courtroom due to flight risk.

Once a left-wing militant and founding member of the radical Red Army Faction (RAF), Mahler is a trained lawyer who later in life switched sides and became a far-right activist. He joined the NPD in 2000.

sac/th (ap/dpa/reuters)