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Stir of anti-Semitism spurs S. Africa to confront far right

A cemetery tribute to Rudolf Hess in Pretoria, complete with straight-arm salutes and swastika flags, has brought pressure on the South African government to confront the country's increasingly assertive far right. At the eye of the storm is a 46-year-old former policeman named Eugene Terre Blanche, whose Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), views ``Jewish capital'' and black nationalism as twin threats to its vision of establishing a purely white-Afrikaner republic in South Africa. Mr. Terre Blanche sent envoys to last week's commemoration service, which appears to have been organized by German immigrants. In the ensuing uproar, Terre Blanche scolded Jewish leaders for introducing the ``foreign'' issue of the Nazi Holocaust into South African politics.

``They are going to make life very difficult for themselves,'' he warned.

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But also present at the ceremony was at least one uniformed girl member of the Voortrekkers, a scouting movement closely linked to the country's ruling National Party.

Though sharply critical of the AWB, the government has so far stopped short of targeting the group with the curbs used, under a year-old state of emergency, against black political extremism.

One reason for official caution toward Terre Blanche's followers may be that the rise of the extreme right in the past few years has been something of a family affair.

Both the AWB - and, inside Parliament, the Conservative Party - have drawn their growing strength from the very ideology of white supremacy that helped sprout the National Party (NP) prior to World War II.

But as President Pieter Botha has steered his party gradually toward the political center, many lifelong NP backers have been heading toward the far right.

The Hess controversy has made the government's careful handling of the far-right challenge more difficult. This is partly because of the outcry by liberal politicians and local Jewish leaders over the commemoration - an outcry that took on a sharper edge yesterday morning with an implicit threat by a Jewish militant group to meet the AWB's anti-Semitic truculence tit for tat.

Inside the NP, some younger members have also been arguing for a more muscular response to Terre Blanche. They note that though a recent election made the Conservative Party the official parliamentary opposition, the NP still emerged with a landslide endorsement.

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Interestingly, it was Johannesburg's pro-government newspaper, the Citizen, that broke the story of the Hess commemoration, running a front-page photo of the Voortrekker girl. Yesterday, the paper followed up with a report on a Johannesburg-area resident flying a swastika flag at half mast, and strongly denounced such demonstrations.

Still, the Afrikaans-language newspaper Beeld limited its editorial comment to observing that the Pretoria commemoration had heightened ``tension'' between Jews and the far right, and saying that Voortrekkers must steer clear of such issues.

The government has said it is investigating the incident. Pretoria police have said they are seeking to establish whether World War II-era anti-Nazi legislation is still on the books, and if such laws can be used against the participants in the Hess ceremony. It is unclear whether the government intends to begin a political offensive against the AWB.

Journalists in South Africa operate under official press restrictions.

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