Around 500 far-right extremists have marched in Berlin in honour of the 30th anniversary of the death of Nazi Rudolf Hess.
Marchers were met with counter-demonstrators in similar numbers, who gathered near the parade in the Spandau district with both groups separated by hundreds of heavily armoured police.
Berlin police spokesman Carsten Mueller said authorities have imposed a number of restrictions on Saturday’s march to ensure it passes peacefully. Police have told organisers they can march but are not allowed to glorify Hess, who died at Spandau prison.
The neo-Nazis were also allowed to bring banners, but only one for every 50 participants. Such restrictions are common in Germany and rooted in the experience of the pre-war Weimar Republic, when opposing political groups would try to forcibly interrupt their rivals’ rallies, resulting in frequent violence.
The exact rules differ according to the circumstances, but police in Germany say they generally try to balance protesters’ rights to free speech and free assembly against the rights of counter-demonstrators and residents. The rules mean that shields, helmets and batons carried by far-right and Neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville in the US last weekend would not be allowed in Germany.
Openly anti-Semitic chants would prompt German police to intervene, although efforts would be made to detain specific individuals rather than to stop an entire rally, police say. Left-wing groups expect about 1,000 people to attend the counter-protests.
Hess, who received a life sentence at the Nuremberg trials for his role in planning the Second World War, died on August 17 1987. Allied authorities ruled his death a suicide but Nazi sympathisers have long claimed he was killed and organise annual marches in his honour.
The marches used to take place in the Bavarian town of Wunsiedel, where Hess was buried, until authorities removed his remains.