Franz Schoenhuber, the ex-Nazi Waffen SS soldier whose ultra-rightist Republicans became the shooting star of West German politics, quit as party leader Friday, complaining that extremists have taken over.
Mainstream politicians in Bonn said his decision marks the near-certain demise of one of Europe's most controversial political parties, which went from a mushrooming political force to a fringe group in disarray.
Otto Lambsdorff, head of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats, said Friday, "The remains . . . of this party will soon scatter themselves into the wind."
The Republicans' main office in Munich said Schoenhuber's former deputy, Johanna Grund, 56, would replace him until a new chairperson is elected.
Schoenhuber, 66, said that a "small clique of extremist functionaries" existed at top party levels and that he is quitting because he feels unable to oppose them.
In recent state elections, the Republicans mustered less than 2% of the vote. They slipped badly in national polls--far below the 5% needed to gain seats in the federal Parliament in Dec. 2 elections.
Schoenhuber told reporters in Munich that he would try to create a new leadership to challenge his successor, but Republican officials said efforts were already under way among the leadership to oust him from the party.