WIESBADEN, Germany (Reuters) - Germany is making a second bid to ban a far-right political party represented in two state assemblies, after police arrested a former party official for his links to a small neo-Nazi group that murdered nine Turkish and Greek immigrants.
"Our aim is to outlaw the NPD (National Democratic Party)," German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said during a news conference following a meeting with the interior ministers of Germany's 16 states on Friday.
The German intelligence agency describes the party as racist, anti-Semitic and inspired by the Nazis. Its local election campaigns blame immigrants for crime and unemployment and its supporters are mostly unemployed young men with little education in depressed areas of the east.
It is represented in two state assemblies - the east German states of Saxony and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern - but not in the federal parliament. One attempt to ban the NPD failed in 2003 after witnesses were exposed as intelligence agency informants.
German police said last week they are investigating links between a neo-Nazi group that committed the so-called "doner murders" - a name attached by the media because some victims owned Turkish fast-food stands - and the NPD.
Two members of the cell, called the "National Socialist Underground" were found dead in a burnt-out mobile home in November and a third handed herself in to police.
Authorities in Jena in east Germany later arrested Ralf Wohlleben, 35, formerly a senior NPD official in the state of Thuringia. He is suspected of providing the group with weapons and ammunition.
The NPD said in a statement this week that it rejected any suggestion of a link between it, its goals and its activities with the far-right cell behind the murders, adding it disapproved of violence as a means to political ends.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the existence of the "National Socialist Underground," a disgrace. Turkey has called on Germany to take seriously the racist threat to the 3 million Turks living here.
"We all agree that the NPD is a party whose goals and the behaviour of whose followers is aimed at limiting and removing our free democratic order," Boris Rhein, the interior minister of the state of Hesse, told the news conference.
He declined to say how long it might take to outlaw the NPD, adding the federal government and the states would work together to build a case against the party, which could take some time.
"We cannot afford to fail at the German constitutional court again," Rhein said.
At the same time, he said that the German government was not prepared to give up informants, whose involvement with the NPD led to the collapse of the last attempt to outlaw the party.
"We agree that we cannot work without sources. But we have to evaluate where we need them and where we might be able to do without them," Rhein said.
Reporting by Maria Sheahan