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Germany to spend more on countering neo-Nazism

Written by: Staff
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BERLIN, Nov 22 (Reuters) Germany plans to increase funding for anti-extremist education campaigns next year amid signs neo-Nazi and xenophobic sentiment is gaining ground, particularly in rural parts of eastern Germany.

Germany has earmarked 24 million euros a year from 2007 for campaigns against right-wing extremism, anti-foreigner sentiment and anti-Semitism, officials from the ministries for family affairs and employment said.

Germany has spent 192 million euros since 2001 on 4,500 projects and initiatives. The family affairs ministry said these projects had ''a largely positive and sustained effect.'' ''We can be proud of what we have achieved,'' Secretary of State for Employment Hajo Wasserhoevel told reporters. ''However, we cannot be proud of the regional situation.'' The number of extreme right-wing crimes has risen significantly this year, climbing by around 20 per cent in the first eight months of 2006 compared to a year earlier.

This may have been distorted by the soccer World Cup, which took place from June to July this year, but officials say that overall, the problem is rising.

Concerns over neo-Nazi extremism have been stoked by attacks such as one on a Jewish memorial in the eastern town of Frankfurt on Oder earlier this month. In July, extremists in Saxony-Anhalt burned the diary of Holocaust victim Anne Frank.

The far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) has also raised its political profile, winning enough votes in September to enter parliament in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, also in the formerly communist east.

Opposition politician Guido Westerwelle, head of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), told Reuters earlier this month that the policies of Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left government had increased support for the far-right.

Far-right parties now hold state parliament seats in three ex-communist regions. Opponents say they are building support at grass-roots level by funding activities for young men in economically-depressed areas where jobs are scarce.

Stephan Meister, an anti-right-wing campaigner from the eastern German town of Wurzen, said it was hard to gauge the success of the many government-supported initiatives.

''In Wurzen a great deal has changed in the past six years,'' he said. ''We have managed to attract the support of a great number of ordinary citizens to the cause. But we have, say, 200 people and we need 3,000.'' REUTERS DKS PM0433

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