German court stirs anger over media limits at neo-Nazi trial

BERLIN Wed Mar 27, 2013 11:43am EDT

German Immigration Commissioner Maria Boehmer speaks during a news conference after an integration summit at the Chancellery in Berlin, January 31, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

German Immigration Commissioner Maria Boehmer speaks during a news conference after an integration summit at the Chancellery in Berlin, January 31, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Thomas Peter

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BERLIN (Reuters) - German politicians, media and the country's Turkish community accused a German court of gross insensitivity in failing to guarantee Turkish reporters access to a trial of suspected neo-Nazis blamed for a racist killing spree.

With the trial for the murder of eight Turks and a Greek due to start on April 17, the court allocated 50 guaranteed seats to media on a first-come-first-served basis. Reporters would have to queue for a further 50-60 places each day, the court said.

With local media rushing for seats at what will be one of Germany's most watched trials in decades, no Turkish newspapers were allocated guaranteed places - a situation that a German government minister said was unacceptable and a potential national embarrassment.

"Out of respect for the victims and their families, and in order to win back trust, it is an absolute necessity for Turkish and Greek media reporters to be considered in the seat allocation," said Maria Boehmer, minister of state for migration and integration.

"The whole world is looking at Germany in this case."

The Munich court's decision threatens to become the latest in a series of missteps by German authorities over the murders blamed on a previously unknown group called the National Socialist Underground (NSU), discovered in late 2011.

An inquiry revealed botched investigations, failure to consider racist motives for the killings between 2000 and 2007, a lack of communication between Germany's intelligence services and a failure to properly monitor members of neo-Nazi groups.

The court defended its action, saying it had warned it would allocate seats in order of application. It not legally possible to broadcast proceedings to another room for more reporters to follow, it said.

Germany's Foreign Press Association urged the court to re-think. German newspaper Bild offered to give its seat to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, but the court said places could not be swapped.

Commenting in Bild, former Hurriyet editor Ertugrul Ozkok wrote: "This cannot be true. Three right-wing extremists are suspected of murdering eight Turks, a Greek and a policewoman. For years German authorities failed in their investigations. And now finally when it comes to trial there is no place for Turkish journalists."

"This is a scandal for Germany ... you would expect a degree of sensitivity from a court when dealing with the investigation of racist crimes."

There was also outrage in Turkey where a front-page headline in daily newspaper Milliyet described the situation as "German style Justice!"

Media focus in the trial will be on a 38-year-old woman, Beate Zschaepe, accused of being a founder member of the NSU And of involvement in the murders. Four suspected male accomplices are also on trial.

The existence of the cell came to light by chance when two members committed suicide after a botched bank robbery and when Zschaepe allegedly set fire to an apartment used by the gang.

At a memorial ceremony last year, Chancellor Angela Merkel begged the families for forgiveness for Germany's failings and pledged to take action against neo-Nazis.

(Additional reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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