Far rightists, who have latched onto the sex murder of a little girl in Germany to call for the death penalty for child rape, have been accused by a mayor and other national figures of exploiting the bereaved family.
An eight-year-old girl was murdered recently in Leipzig
German tabloids have been running sensational daily accounts of the death of Michelle, 8, and the so-far unsuccessful police hunt for her murderer in the eastern German city of Leipzig.
On Monday evening, a crowd of 280 rightists, many of them committed neo-Nazis, demonstrated close to the place where her body was found, demanding Germany re-introduce the death penalty for serious crimes.
Though the rightists are pariahs in German public life, it was a fair bet that many tabloid readers would sympathize with the demand.
Far-right under fire for rally
Burkhard Jung, mayor of Leipzig, said he was grateful that most of the people of Leipzig "were not conned by these rightist manipulators. They marched alone. Leipzig did not support them.
The death penalty is not allowed in Germany
"What we need now is dignity, respect and sensitivity toward the child's family, not political demonstrations," he told DPA news agency in an interview. But opponents of the right were too angry to just ignore the rally.
Christian Wolff, pastor of the Lutheran church of St. Thomas, expressed his revulsion about the rightists in a speech to 40 Leipzig people at an inner-city rally organized by a community group.
St. Thomas has become a national icon in Germany as the church where East Germans dared to demonstrate against communism in 1989 and ultimately brought down the Berlin Wall and Soviet control.
The clergyman was especially outraged that the rightists quoted passages from the Bible to justify execution of criminals. Any fool could dig up biblical quotes to support his own point of view, he said.
Taking advantage of public sentiment
Germany's hard left also organized a counter-demonstration with 100 people in Leipzig, but there was no violence. Community groups scorned that rally, saying its motives were also tainted.
Far rightists commonly try to stir up popular feeling using crimes against innocent children, said Uwe Backes, deputy director of the Hannah Arendt Institute for Research into Totalitarianism in nearby Dresden.
"It's a way of criticizing the government for being allegedly too liberal," he explained. "When public feeling is highly emotional after the murder of a child, public support for re-introducing the death penalty tends to peak. We know that from surveys."
The far-right NPD joined in Monday's demonstrations for the death penalty
Main-stream German media and national politicians are uniformly opposed to the death penalty, but there are signs that some of the constituents may not be so sure. One man in Leipzig was this week moved to put "death for child rape" stickers on the windows of his car.
Far rightists claim they represent currents of popular opinion that are simply blanked out of the media as if they did not exist.
Appeal to main-stream parties
Charlotte Knobloch, president of Germany's national council of Jews, said on MDR Info radio: "These people would trick the devil himself to help them to their ends. For them, nothing is sacred."
She called for Germany's main far-right group, the National Democratic Party (NPD), which sent four of its eight deputies in the Saxony state legislature to join in Monday's rightist demonstration, to be outlawed.
Backes said it would be better for main-stream political parties to use sweet reason to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Germans.
"The established parties should calmly set out how they would solve this kind of problem and demonstrate that they know the right thing to do," he counseled.
Criticism has also been directed at populist newspapers such as Bild, Germany's biggest-selling daily, and its lurid accounts of the case, obtained from anonymous sources, and the press' advice to the police on how to solve the crime.
"Public figures should refrain from anything that whips up base urges and further sullies the victim," Wolff said.