Munich court delays neo-Nazi trial after access row

MUNICH, Germany Mon Apr 15, 2013 12:23pm EDT

1 of 2. Margarete Noetzel (R) press spokesperson of the Munich court house where the trial against Beate Zschaepe, a member of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) is due to take place, addresses the media on April 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Michael Dalder

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MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - A Munich court delayed on Monday the long-awaited trial of a suspected neo-Nazi charged over a string of immigrant murders, after being ordered by a higher court to guarantee seats to media from Turkey, where most victims hailed from.

The postponement of 38-year-old Beate Zschaepe's trial, which had been due to start on Wednesday, is the latest mishap to dog a case that has horrified Germans and exposed bungled investigations, a failure to share information, and an entrenched disregard for the far-right threat.

The Munich court had allocated 50 guaranteed seats in the small courtroom to media on a first-come-first-served basis but none went to Turkish journalists.

Turkish newspaper Sabah filed a lawsuit which the German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe upheld, ruling that the Munich court must open up at least three more seats for foreign media.

"In view of the Constitutional Court ruling... a new accreditation process is necessary," Munich court spokeswoman Margarete Noetzel said in a statement.

Noetzel said she had no idea what criteria would be applied in the new process.

Zschaepe is accused of being a founder member of the neo-Nazi cell the National Socialist Underground (NSU) and of complicity in the murder of eight Turks, a Greek and a German policewoman, during a nearly decade-long killing spree.

Four others charged with assisting the NSU will sit with Zschaepe on the bench.

APPALLED BY DELAY

German politicians, media and Germany's large ethnic Turkish community accused the Munich court of insensitivity over its initial refusal to allow more foreign media into the trial.

Commenting on the delay of the trial, Mehmet Daimagueler, lawyer of two victims' families, told the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung he was shocked and appalled.

"This situation is taking on a slapstick character," he said.

Other lawyers said in a joint statement they were "more than angry" over the postponement.

"This is the result of the rigid attitude displayed by the Munich court which blocked criticism and rejected proposals for a constructive solution," they said.

The Alliance against Nazi Terror and Racism said the delay showed "enormous insensitivity" to families who have been preparing emotionally for the start of what will be for them a painful court experience.

The existence of the neo-Nazi cell only came to light by chance in late 2011 when two members committed suicide after a botched bank robbery. Zschaepe then allegedly set fire to an apartment used by the gang.

At a memorial ceremony for the victims 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 Alexandra Hudson in Berlin, Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by)

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