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Neo-Nazi Attack on Africans Leads to Criticism of Police : Germany: The drunken rightists were ‘hunting foreigners.’ Only one of 48 remained in custody.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

German police drew harsh criticism Friday after failing to respond quickly to a bloody neo-Nazi attack on black Africans that led to one of the worst racial riots in Germany since a wave of rightist violence against foreigners began two years ago.

The fracas in the eastern city of Magdeburg started Thursday afternoon when dozens of drunken neo-Nazis drove through the streets “hunting foreigners” and assaulted a group of five Africans, according to police and witnesses.

About 30 Turkish-led foreigners and German leftists came to the Africans’ defense, fighting pitched street battles with the rightists until police contained the clashes late in the night.

At least two foreigners were stabbed, one was beaten with iron bars, and several others were injured, according to police and press reports. Three rightists also suffered knife wounds.

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Police detained 48 alleged neo-Nazis but released all but one of them, incurring a rash of criticism from national media and political and business leaders. One Turkish rioter also was under arrest.

Early Friday, Magdeburg police spokesman Burkhard Jach said the neo-Nazis “were drunk and obviously wanted to chase foreigners.” He said that most of the people detained “are known to us.”

But later, as public anger with police rose, Antonius Stockman, the Magdeburg police president, played down the incident, saying the attackers were not a homogeneous group of rightists but hooligans and rightist hangers-on.

“Magdeburg is not a place of right-wing extremists,” he said.

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German television reported, however, that the government Office for the Protection of the Constitution had warned police about the potential for right-wing violence in Magdeburg. And residents reported that a leftist youth club in town has been attacked by “skinheads” about 10 times in the last couple of years.

Police said they reacted quickly to Thursday’s clashes but conceded that they initially did not have enough officers on duty.

Thursday was a national holiday in Germany, and police and witnesses said the teen-age neo-Nazis had been drinking. Torsten Boek, a Greens Party leader in Magdeburg, said he saw them driving about town Thursday afternoon, waving a military flag of the Kaiser Reich.

Details of the attack on the Africans were sketchy until the time the five sought refuge in a cafe. The neo-Nazis attacked the restaurant, throwing tables and chairs through the windows and shouting “Germany for Germans.”

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“The police definitely showed up too late,” said Arab Oetzbay, the Turkish owner of the restaurant who declined to talk further about the incident, fearing a second attack.

The identity of the Africans was not known.

Magdeburg has a home for about 900 foreigners seeking asylum in Germany, but Horst Katzer, the deputy director of that institution, said he had been ordered by higher state officials not to give interviews.

Cornelia Schmalz-Jacobsen, the government’s representative for foreigners’ affairs, called the riot a new peak in a wave of radical rightist violence after German reunification. “The fact that people are being hunted mirrors the worst events of the Nazi period,” she told German radio.

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A spokesman for Chancellor Helmut Kohl called the bloodshed “a shame” and said the government would do all it could to prevent further violence.

Ignatz Bubis, leader of Germany’s Jewish community, expressed outrage, saying: “I can’t understand how something like this can happen. That the police can’t manage to protect people is a scandal.”

He called for disciplinary action against the police and said it was “inconceivable” that all but one of those arrested were released without being charged.

In Magdeburg, townsfolk scarcely reacted to the riots.

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The number of right-wing attacks on foreigners has been declining in the last year after a series of fatal attacks in Moelln, Rostock and Solingen in 1992 and 1993. But in November of last year, black members of the U.S. luge team were attacked in a discotheque in the east German town of Oberhof where they had been training for the Olympics.

Meantime, in Bonn, the nation’s governing coalition on Friday agreed to back legislation making it a crime to claim that the Nazis’ mass murder of Jews is a lie.

Coalition leaders said passage was expected next Friday in Parliament. Conviction of disseminating the “Auschwitz Lie,” named after the Nazi death camp in Poland, would be punishable by three years in prison.

Andreas Scharpf and Christian Retzlaff, of The Times’ Berlin Bureau, in Magdeburg, contributed to this report.

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