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Neo-Nazi Rallies Disrupt May Day Celebrations in Germany

By Carol J. Williams
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- BERLIN

Neo-Nazis rallied here Monday for the first time since Berlin was restored as the German capital last year, provoking clashes with radical leftists and transforming the May Day holiday meant to celebrate work and good weather into a massive police operation to protect the political fringe.

At least 400 demonstrators were arrested in Berlin, Hamburg and Dresden, where rallies staged by the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party incited militant leftists to take to the streets in angry counterprotests.

With 6,400 police officers and border guards deployed in Berlin to keep watch over the volatile demonstrations, security personnel far outnumbered protesters at all of the scattered venues.

Fewer than 800 NDP members turned out for the rally in the eastern suburb of Hellersdorf despite a court order Saturday overturning a city decision to prohibit the march on security grounds.

Their shouts of “Jobs for Germans first” and “Germany for us Germans” were drowned out by the shrill whistles blown by the leftists and their answering cries of “Nazis out!”

Police, who numbered about 2,500 at the event, arrested 180 left-wing extremists and neo-Nazis. Neo-Nazis and leftists had engaged in a brief clash.

Security forces posted in Hellersdorf also intercepted and arrested 140 leftist radicals who arrived from an early morning riot in Hamburg armed and looking for trouble at the neo-Nazi rally, police said.

Arrests also were made in Hamburg, Dresden and some eastern German towns.

“Our de-escalation concept has proven itself,” said Berlin Police Chief Hagen Saberschinsky, referring to the squad’s policy of preventing fights among the radicals by letting them have their say and overwhelming their numbers.

While the noisy demonstrations in Berlin captured more attention, traditional labor rallies drew thousands of workers across the country. The biggest was in Hanover where the German Association of Trade Unions chief Dieter Schulte demanded more government investment in new jobs. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder attended the Hanover rally, the first time a German leader has taken part in a May Day event since 1982.