Germany's government dismissed as nonsense an attempt by the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) to get the country's top court to rule that it is constitutional, an unprecedented move that could block any future bid to ban it.
The NPD filed the motion with the Karlsruhe-based Constitutional Court on Tuesday and a court spokesman said the case was a first time in post-war German history that a party had sought such legitimisation.
The NPD said it wanted to show that its rights were being undermined by claims from a wide range of critics that it was unconstitutional.
Germany's domestic intelligence service has described the NPD as "racist, anti-Semitic and revisionist" and that it aims to abolish democracy. Groups with explicit neo-Nazi ideology are banned in Germany.
Calls for a clampdown on Germany's far-right activists and for a ban of the NPD have grown since last year's chance discovery that a cell of neo-Nazis, the Nationalist Socialist Underground (NSU), had waged a decade-long racist killing spree.
"Officially it (the motion) is inadmissible and unofficially you could also say it is nonsense," said a spokesman for the Interior Ministry on Wednesday.
"There is no need to change our planned timetable for deciding on whether to try to ban the NPD," he said, adding that it was unclear whether the Constitutional Court was the appropriate body to rule on the case.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich is due to decide in early December whether to pursue a ban on the NPD.
It is still far from clear whether Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right government will pursue such a ban after a previous attempt in 2003 collapsed because informants were used as witnesses.
Even though the government has ended its practice of using informants, Merkel's spokesman said the government wanted to be sure any case was watertight before it went ahead.
Opposition parties are pushing for a ban.
"The chances of success for a ban are better than ever. The informants have been withdrawn from the NPD leading committees and some 1,000 pages of usable evidence prove that the NPD is anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and in parts is violent," said senior opposition Social Democrat (SPD) Thomas Oppermann.
The NPD, which is more radical than populist anti-immigrant parties in France, Britain and the Netherlands, has seats in two state assemblies in eastern Germany but has never won enough support to win representation at the federal level.
However, a study published on Monday showed that more than a third of Germans living in the former Communist East harbour hostility towards foreigners.
The spectacular failure of German authorities to uncover the NSU until 2011 has led to accusations that intelligence agencies underestimated the dangers from the far right for many years.
The head of Berlin city's intelligence agency quit on Wednesday after accusations that documents linked to the NSU had been destroyed by her officials.
Claudia Schmid is the fourth senior intelligence agent to have lost her job over the NSU. Others include the federal chief, Heinz Fromm, who acknowledged one of his staff had shredded NSU files.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, editing by Gareth Jones and Keiron Henderson)