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Far right advances at Kohl's expense in German voting

Chancellor Helmut Kohl's strength with eastern German voters plummeted Sunday as voters in a state election channeled their disillusionment into support for an extreme-right party.

The anti-foreigner German People's Union entered the Saxony-Anhalt state legislature with more than 13 percent of the vote, according to early results. Kohl's Christian Democrats lost about that much, slumping to 22 percent support.

The opposition Social Democrats improved slightly, winning about 37 percent and retaining power in the state. The ex-communist Party of Democratic Socialism remained steady with about 19 percent.

The Social Democrats declared the vote in the economically depressed state a new boost for their chancellor candidate Gerhard Schroeder, the front-runner for Sept. 27 national elections.

"Kohl has been voted out in the east," Schroeder declared from his home in Hanover.

Incumbent Saxony-Anhalt Gov. Reinhard Hoeppner, a Social Democrat, blamed the right-wing surge on voter disenchantment with Kohl, the chancellor who united Germany in 1990.

"Whoever deceives the voters and provokes them with such disappointments can't be surprised when the way is paved for such a protest," he said.

At the same time, Kohl's Christian Democrats blasted the Social Democrats for tolerating support from former communists in the outgoing legislature.

"Whoever promotes and supports the extreme left, may not be unprepared for an extreme right answer," said Walter Remmers, deputy state chairman for the Christian Democrats.

Gerhard Frey, a 65-year-old millionaire publisher from Munich who leads the far-right German People's Union, called the result "a victory for democracy."

Pollsters said support for the party was strongest among voters under 30 _ the segment of the population suffering most under Saxony-Anhalt's 22.6 percent unemployment, nearly twice the national average.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the state parliament building Sunday night to protest the German People's Union's entrance into the legislature. They waved placards reading: "Nazis out on their heads."

Overall, the result signaled the precipitous decline of Kohl's popularity among easterners, who had supported him in his last two re-election campaigns out of gratitude for unification.

Without the east's support, Kohl could lose his chance for a second historic triumph after unification: presiding over entry into Europe's common currency.

"We need a new man with new ideas," said Jens Gerber, a 28-year-old construction worker, after voting for the Social Democrats in a dingy communist-era housing project in the state capital, Magdeburg.

"Kohl made a lot of promises he couldn't keep," said Gabi Witt, a 26-year-old mother of two who has been unemployed for seven years.

Kohl, who promised after unification to turn the east into a "blossoming landscape" of new businesses and opportunities, was booed and heckled as he campaigned in Saxony-Anhalt.

Supporters of the German People's Union included disk jockey Thomas Horch, 23.

"I don't see why we should bail out economically weaker countries with the German mark," he said, seizing on the party's opposition to the single currency.

Party leader Frey inherited a chain of department stores in the late 1950s and, with the income from property in Munich and Berlin, built up a publishing empire with nationalistic and sometimes racist tendencies.

The German People's Union, which Frey founded in 1987 and claims about 16,000 members nationwide, also has cleared Germany's 5 percent hurdle to get seats in state parliaments in Bremen and Schleswig-Holstein.

In a 1996 report, the Office for Constitutional Protection, which monitors extremist groups, accused the party of anti-Semitic and xenophobic tendencies. It cited propaganda calling for "criminal foreigners" to be deported, for measures to give Germans jobs first and for asylum-seekers to be deported.