Neo-Nazi gangs attacked homes for foreign refugees in at least seven east German cities overnight after an anti-racism march in Rostock passed off without serious violence.

The worst incidents were in Cottbus, where extremists clashed with police after being prevented from attacking a home for asylum-seekers.

Attacks were also reported in Leipzig, Gorlitz, Stendal, Schwerin, Neubrandenburg, and Eisenhuettenstadt. Police, who had stepped up security around the hostels, made dozens of arrests.

The head of German counter-intelligence, Eckart Werthebach, said yesterday it had set up a special unit to monitor right-wing violence. The violence was likely to increase he said, but there was still no evidence it was being systematically coordinated.

Saturday's march in Rostock was largely peaceful. About 3,400 police officers mounted a huge security operation, searching vehicles approaching the city to seize weapons.

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