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Germany Braces For Trial Blamed On Right-Wing Extremists

Germany is preparing for its most important terrorism trial in decades.

Ten people — eight of them of Turkish descent, one of Greek extraction and one a German policewoman, were gunned down between 2000 and 2007. For years, German authorities failed to see a link between the crimes, even though the same gun was used in all of the shootings. They also rejected any link to right-wing extremism.

German authorities instead blamed the victims, falsely accusing the non-German ones of ties to criminal and drug gangs. Police searched at least one home of a victim's family with drug-sniffing dogs.

But in 2011, two members of a neo-Nazi group known as the National Socialist Underground (NSU) claimed responsibility for the first murder in a video they filmed before killing themselves.

The trial of a surviving NSU member and several accomplices was supposed to start this Wednesday, but has been delayed until May 6.

Munich court officials announced the delay Monday because they said they didn't have enough time to comply with a constitutional court order on Friday that said a "suitable number of seats" in the courtroom had to be made available to foreign journalists. The reasoning may sound strange, but this will be a closely watched case.

At a memorial service, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the authorities' handling of the murders a "disgrace" and apologized for the investigators' false accusations. Several top police officials were forced to resign.

But critics say the Merkel government's promises to deal with right-wing extremism have largely languished. They call the court delay the latest example of institutional German racism.

In an interview with NPR, Barbara John, who was appointed by the German government as an official advocate for the families of the victims, says she's heard many official apologies, but no one taking responsibility.

"There are many things wrong in the way we look at immigrants, in the way we look at their families. We must change everything; we have to do it in another way," John says. "We are living now in a society with millions of immigrants, and therefore we have to change our whole behavior."

For weeks now, foreign journalists in Germany, NPR included, have questioned the court administration repeatedly about its decision to allot the overwhelming majority of the 50 media spaces inside the courtroom to German media. The court claimed they allotted the seats on a first-come, first-serve basis.

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