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Dogged by delay, outcry, German neo-Nazi trial to open

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Germany's biggest-ever neo-Nazi trial is due to open Monday after a three-week delay over a row about media access which has further shaken the country's image, on top of security flaws exposed by the extremists' murder spree.

The trial has been keenly awaited since the 2011 shock discovery of a far-right killer cell but has been overshadowed in the run-up by an outcry and ridicule over the way the court handed out journalists' passes.

Amid tight security in the southern city of Munich, the woman accused of being the last surviving member of a killer trio will face charges linked to 10 mostly racially motivated murders over a seven-year period.

Beate Zschaepe, 38, is charged with complicity in the 2000-2007 murders of eight ethnic Turks, a Greek immigrant and a German policewoman, as a founding member of the far-right gang dubbed the National Socialist Underground (NSU).

She is also accused of involvement in 15 armed robberies, arson and attempted murder in two bomb attacks, and faces life in prison if convicted. Four male alleged accomplices will also go on trial on lesser charges.

Morbid fascination in the bespectacled, unassuming looking brunette, dubbed the "Nazi moll" in the media, has been heightened by her refusal to talk while in custody. Her lawyer has said she has no plans to break her silence in the courtroom.

Germany, haunted by its Nazi past, was stunned by revelations in late 2011 that not foreign criminal gangs, as long suspected by police and the media, but home-grown racist killers were behind the nationwide murder spree.

Anger was stoked by a failure to home in on the killers for more than a decade, and an admission that files had been shredded that could have helped the investigation.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the killings a "disgrace" for her country and apologised for the fact that suspicion had fallen on some victims' relatives, which she called "particularly tormenting".

Berlin last week apologised before the UN Human Rights Council for mistakes in probing the NSU murders which the government's top official on human rights described as "one of the worst human rights abuses in recent decades" in Germany.

Prosecutors say Zschaepe and her alleged NSU accomplices, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, funded their crime spree for 13 years with bank and post office robberies.

The two men were found shot dead in an apparent murder-suicide following a heist on November 4, 2011.

Zschaepe then allegedly blew up their shared home in Zwickau in eastern Germany and distributed a DVD -- with a film in the style of a "Pink Panther" cartoon -- which the group had produced earlier claiming responsibility for the attacks.

Four days after the deaths, she surrendered to police.

Prosecutors allege her role lay in helping ensure the insular trio remained under the radar, managing the logistics and holding the purse strings.

The head of Germany's internal security services has warned against expectations that the trial will shed a lot of light on the chapter.

Even if many answers are forthcoming, it is not certain "that we will have complete clarity about the NSU in the end", Hans Georg Maassen recently told the Frankfurter Rundschau.

The landmark trial also stoked controversy long before its start over an ongoing row centred on the accreditation of journalists.

As most of the victims originated from Turkey, it is expected to be intensely scrutinised beyond Germany's borders.

But the court initially failed to guarantee Turkish media seats at the hearings when it handed out reserved spots on a first-come, first-served basis. This strained German-Turkish ties and forced a last-minute postponement when Germany's top court ordered it to allocate seats to foreign reporters.

A hastily organised re-run of the accreditation process -- where 50 media organisations were chosen in a lottery -- has failed to calm the waters.

Although Turkish media now have four seats, a raft of leading German newspapers missed out while many regional papers and Brigitte women's magazine got lucky. Several major dailies said they were considering a legal challenge.

"The (media) list reads in parts like a farce. It's shameful," said the Munich-based Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which did not get a reserved spot.

"The lotto fairy drew trash-tv and advertising sheets out of the hat. Embarrassing!" charged the mass circulation Bild, which did secure a seat.

Barbara John, the government's representative for the victims, warned against another delay because of further legal action from newspapers, in comments to the Kieler Nachrichten newspaper.

"That would finally destroy the confidence of the victims' relatives in the German rule of law," she said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130501/dogged-delay-outcry-german-neo-nazi-trial-open