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The German government withheld support Wednesday from a states' bid to ban a neo-Nazi party, arguing that it would be ineffective in fighting the far right and likely had little chance of success.
The cabinet said it backed the call in principle to sideline the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) but said it would not formally join the appeal because a failed attempt would be worse than none at all.
"There are major obstacles," Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told reporters.
The Bundesrat upper house of parliament, which represents Germany's 16 states, voted unanimously in December to appeal to the Constitutional Court to ban the NPD.
The government at the time delayed a decision on making its own bid, noting that a second stab at a ban was fraught with risk because a rejection could embolden the xenophobic, racist party.
It said Wednesday that although it would not formally join in presenting the application against the NPD, the interior ministry would continue to "systematically" collect evidence against it for the Bundesrat's case.
The leader of the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), junior partner in the ruling coalition, said Monday that his party opposed a government application for a ban, saying it was the wrong strategy against extremists.
"You can't ban stupidity," the FDP chairman, Vietnam-born Philipp Roesler, told reporters, and noting outlawing the NPD could drive extremists underground.
Jewish groups, representatives of Germany's three-million-strong Turkish immigrant community and the centre-left opposition accused him of playing down the far-right threat.
In 2003, a similar attempt spearheaded by the federal government ran aground because the court found that the presence of intelligence agents who had infiltrated the party's ranks muddied the case against it.
Founded in 1964 with the help of former Nazis, the NPD has never won seats in the federal parliament and in 2009 scored just 1.5 percent of the vote -- far from the five percent needed for representation.
But it is represented in two state parliaments and entitled to federal election campaign financing.
The drive against it gained new momentum when it emerged in 2011 that a neo-Nazi cell with possible ties to the NPD was believed to be behind the murders of 10 people over a seven-year period.