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German supreme court rejects bid to outlaw far-right party

German supreme court rejects bid to outlaw far-right party

BERLIN — Germany's supreme court on Tuesday rejected a bid by lawmakers to outlaw a fringe far-right party accused of pursuing a racist and anti-Semitic agenda.

Andreas Vosskuhle, chief justice of the Federal constitutional Court, said that while the party's goals run counter to the German constitution, "there are currently no concrete indications ... that its actions will lead to success."

The German parliament's upper house had applied for the ban at the end of 2013.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the government respected the verdict, but warned against complacency.

"No ban alone would get rid of xenophobia and racism," he said in a statement. "Society's struggle against far-right extremism isn't something others can do for us."

It was the second attempt to ban the National Democratic Party, better known by its German acronym NPD. In 2003, the court rejected a previous application because paid government informants within the group were partially responsible for evidence against it.

Vosskuhle, in explaining the verdict, cited the party's political irrelevance, pointing out that it has only a single seat in the European Parliament and that the NPD's election results have in recent years been "on a low level."

Vosskuhle said that a party's questionable ideology alone wasn't reason enough for a ban. A party would need to be actively working to abolish Germany's free and democratic order, he said, adding: "There's no evidence for this here."

The rise of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, which has assailed Chancellor Angela Merkel for allowing large numbers of migrants into the country and appeals to a much broader range of protest voters, has eroded the NPD's support in recent years.

The party isn't represented in the Bundestag after winning just 1.3 per cent of the vote in the last national election in 2013. Parties need to pass a 5-per cent threshold to win seats in the federal parliament. It is still represented at the local level, though, and receives money just like other parties based on its electoral performance.

The NPD could not immediately be reached for comment, but celebrated the verdict on Facebook saying it was "now fully back in business."

Only two parties have been outlawed in West Germany and reunited Germany — the neo-Nazi Socialist Reich Party in 1952 and the German Communist Party in 1956.

The head of the World Jewish Congress voiced disappointment at the verdict and warned that the party shouldn't be underestimated.

"We must never forget how little time it took Hitler and his party to destroy German democracy, to murder 6 million Jews and to plunge the entire European continent into mayhem," Ronald S. Lauder said in a statement. "The situation today may be different, but there is absolutely no reason to be complacent. Germany must continue to combat the neo-Nazi movement vigorously."


Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans contributed to this report.

Kirsten Grieshaber, The Associated Press