WWII March Called Off in Berlin

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About 3,000 supporters of an extreme-right party rallied Sunday to lament what they called Germany's "cult of guilt" about World War II (search), but they were kept from marching in downtown Berlin by thousands of counterdemonstrators.

National Democratic Party (search) supporters were ringed by riot police on the Alexanderplatz square and after a several-hour rally agreed to scrap the march through Berlin, police spokesman Bodo Pfalzgraf said. At least 5,000 opponents had headed toward them to block the planned route.

Hundreds of police, including reinforcements from across Germany (search), separated the two sides. Police said there were no clashes.

Sunday was the anniversary of Nazi Germany's surrender on May 8, 1945. The far-right party, known in Germany as the NPD, dismissed organizers of official remembrances on its Web site as "occupation collaborators and a group of professional Jews."

It said the rally was to protest the "cult of guilt" it says was imposed on Germany after the Nazi defeat 60 years ago. Many protesters wore all-black and sported shaven heads. Some carried flags in red, white and black — the colors used by the Nazis and imperial Germany.

"This is a disgrace," said Interior Minister Otto Schily, who has accused the party of reviving Nazi ideology and symbols.

Police sealed off much of downtown Berlin to prevent clashes and protect the landmark Brandenburg Gate, where mainstream political leaders and about 10,000 spectators attended a "Day of Democracy" celebration with music and speeches.

Most Germans consider the Third Reich's surrender to have liberated them as well as the rest of Europe from the terrors of Nazism.

President Horst Koehler, marking the end of World War II in Europe, insisted that neo-Nazis "have no chance" today because the vast majority of Germans don't support them.

In a speech in parliament, he said Germans "look back with shame" on World War II and the Holocaust.

"We have the responsibility to keep alive the memory of all this suffering and of its causes, and we must ensure it never happens again. There can be no drawing the line."

"We mourn all of the victims, because we want to do justice to all peoples — including our own."

Koehler recalled the destruction of German cities by Allied bombing and the expulsion of Germans from eastern Europe at the end of the war, but he also thanked the Allies because they "gave the Germans a chance after the war."

"Today, we have good reason to be proud of our country," he said.

Originally, the NPD had wanted to march to the Brandenburg Gate and Germany's new Holocaust memorial. Officials refused, citing a new law banning gatherings that insult the memory of Nazi victims, but approved a restricted route.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and other top politicians on Sunday attended a wreath-laying at Berlin's monument to the victims of war and Nazism, which contains the remains of an unknown soldier and an unknown concentration camp victim.