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GERMAN BILL WOULD PUNISH THOSE WHO DENY HOLOCAUST

SHARE GERMAN BILL WOULD PUNISH THOSE WHO DENY HOLOCAUST

The lower house of Parliament approved a crime bill Friday that punishes those who claim the Holocaust never happened with up to three years in prison and makes neo-Nazi gestures and slogans illegal.

The package, aimed at battling gangsters and right-wing violence, also gives police and intelligence agencies greater powers and speeds trial procedures. It increased the penalty for assault, and allows assailants to be jailed preventively.The opposition Social Democrats, who control the upper house of Parliament, opposed parts of the bill and said it threw too many ingredients into the same kettle. The package is likely to be picked apart and most of it approved by a mediation committee.

Debate over the bill reflected a basic fault-line in German society. The conservative government, heeding grass-roots angst over crime, chose to address right-wing attacks on foreigners as a facet of growing lawlessness.

The opposition said the lumping of laws against racist violence with law-and-order measures showed the misguided social vision of the ruling coalition of Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Hatred of foreigners must be battled with social change, including an effort to integrate foreigners and liberalize immigration, said Wolfgang Ullman, a former East German dissident and legislator for Alliance 90-The Greens. Six million foreigners live in Germany.

"By stating that Germany is overwhelmed by asylum-seekers, the government's essential message is `Foreigners Out!' ' - the slogan of neo-Nazi groups, said Ullmann.

More than 1 million foreigners have sought political asylum in Germany since 1989. A 1993 law closed the door on most refugees.