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Discord marks anniversary of German unity

A troubled Germany marked the second anniversary of its reunification Saturday facing deepening social divisions, growing voter impatience and an alarming rise of the radical right.

On a day supposedly set aside for celebration, the nation's political leaders, including Chancellor Helmut Kohl, were booed and faced verbal taunts from the fringes of a large crowd as they walked under heavy security through the medieval city of Schwerin to an official commemoration ceremony.

Although police denied reports that Kohl was punched by a protester as he made his way through the thick crowd, television footage of the incident showed the chancellor was momentarily knocked off balance by what appeared to be a blow from someone from the mass of people surrounding him.

More than 2,000 riot police were on hand in the eastern city, about 150 miles north of Berlin, but there was no major violence.

Officials reported more than 100 arrests after a group of protesters attacked a police station with rocks and bottles.

Elsewhere in Germany, several hundred self-styled neo-Nazis marched through the streets of Dresden shouting, "Foreigners out!" while thousands of leftists staged far larger counter-protests against racism in Nuremberg, Frankfurt and Berlin. A wave of attacks on foreigners and Jewish memorials in recent weeks has shocked many Germans.

In marked contrast to the heady self-congratulation that dominated the celebration of unity two years ago, the German political leaders in speech after speech Saturday tried to steady a national mood that has begun to turn sullen.

"Aggression toward foreigners and anti-Semitism bring disgrace to our country," Kohl said in a nationally televised address.

In a speech also telecast nationally, German President Richard von Weizsaecker gave his fellow citizens what amounted to a 40-minute lecture on the need for patience in the quest for economic recovery and tolerance in dealing with the foreign population.

"Attacks on foreigners and their homes are intolerable," he said. "Whoever claims (to be) undertaking such violence in the interests of Germany misuses the name of our country."