Top German court opens hearings on bid to outlaw far-right party

BERLIN - Germany's highest court opened hearings Tuesday on a bid to outlaw the country's biggest far-right party, which officials accuse of promoting a racist and anti-Semitic agenda - a second attempt to secure what would be the first ban on a party for 60 years.

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The German parliament's upper house, which represents the country's 16 state governments, applied at the end of 2013 for a ban on the National Democratic Party, or NPD. They say it violates the constitution and are keen to cut off the state funding to which political parties are entitled.

A decade earlier, the Karlsruhe-based Federal constitutional Court rejected a first attempt to ban the party because paid government informants within the group were partially responsible for the evidence against it. Officials say there's no evidence from informants in the new case.

Bavaria's interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, told n-tv television that "the NPD is a danger to our democracy." He added that "the NPD benefits from state financing of parties - that means that tax money is abused for neo-Nazi propaganda."

The head of Germany's main Jewish group, Josef Schuster, said the NPD wants to create a state "in which there is no place for minorities."

The NPD isn't represented in Germany's national parliament, though it does have a single seat in the European Parliament and lawmakers in one eastern German state legislature.

Opening three days of hearings, chief justice Andreas Vosskuhle told the court that the case was "a special challenge." He stressed that judges must refrain from "any political evaluation" and consider only legal aspects.

Only two parties have previously been banned in West Germany and reunited Germany, the last of them the German Communist Party in 1956.

The case comes amid concern over anti-migrant rhetoric and attacks on refugee accommodation as Germany deals with a large influx of migrants.

Federal Justice Minister Heiko Maas said that the case is groundbreaking but the court "will not relieve us of the job of fighting the far right, however the case goes."

Peter Richter, a lawyer representing the NPD, sought as the hearing began to have two of the eight judges removed for alleged bias against the party.

The court typically takes several months to deliver rulings.



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