BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet decided on Wednesday not to try to outlaw the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) due to splits within the ruling coalition, leaving Germany's states to pursue their own ban.
Germany's domestic intelligence service has branded the NPD "racist, anti-Semitic and revisionist" but banning a political party is especially sensitive in Germany, still haunted by memories of Nazi and communist regimes which silenced dissent.
The cabinet decided at its weekly meeting not to lodge its own request for a ban with the Constitutional Court but instead to support a bid to be filed by the states, who make up the Bundesrat upper chamber of parliament, a government source said.
Merkel and Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich have expressed reservations about trying to proscribe the NPD after a previous attempt in 2003 collapsed because informants high in the party were used as key witnesses.
Ministers from Merkel's junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), had strongly opposed any campaign for a ban, saying the risk of another failure was too great and that this could hand a propaganda victory to the NPD.
Germany's large ethnic Turkish community and the Central Council of Jews have criticized the failure of German authorities to forge a united stance on the NPD.
Calls to ban the NPD have gathered momentum after it emerged in 2011 that a neo-Nazi cell had waged a racist killing spree over nearly a decade.
The NPD has denied having any links with the cell of neo-Nazis who killed a number of foreigners and a policewoman between 2000 and 2007, and the party condemned the murders.
But experts say that at least on an informal level, some NPD members did have links to the individuals in the cell.
Reporting by Thorsten Severin; writing by Alexandra Hudson, editing by Gareth Jones and Alistair Lyon