By Thorsten Severin and Alexandra Hudson
BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government decided against trying to outlaw the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), branded by its critics as neo-Nazi, over doubts that judges would back such a move.
The government said it would instead support a separate bid by Germany's 16 federal states to ask the Constitutional Court to ban the party which the domestic intelligence service has called "racist, anti-Semitic and revisionist".
Banning a political group is especially sensitive in Germany, still haunted by memories of Nazi and communist regimes which silenced dissent. A previous attempt to ban the NPD failed in 2003, causing embarrassment to the government of the time.
Germany's large ethnic Turkish community, the Central Council of Jews and Central Council of Sinti and Roma have criticized the government over its failure to take a united stance on the NPD, saying it has shirked its responsibility.
Calls for another attempt to ban the party grew after it emerged in 2011 that a neo-Nazi cell had waged a racist killing spree over nearly a decade, in revelations that shamed and shocked Germany.
"We don't believe filing our own case (to ban the NPD) is necessary. It is enough if one state organ does this, then the case will be launched," Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said on Wednesday.
"Right-wing extremism, like that represented by the NPD, has no place in our society," he said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert told a regular government news conference on Wednesday the struggle against far-right extremism would be an "enduring task".
More radical than populist anti-immigrant parties in France, Britain and the Netherlands, the NPD is believed to have fewer than 10,000 members. It has no representation at the federal level but has seats in two state assemblies in eastern Germany.
The NPD - whose website bears the slogan "work, family, fatherland" - campaigns for full employment, greater national sovereignty in defense and foreign affairs and an end to immigration. Critics say it has ties to violent racist groups.
The NPD has denied having any link with the cell of neo-Nazis who killed eight ethnic Turks, a Greek and a policewoman between 2000 and 2007, and the party condemned the murders.
Ministers from Merkel's junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), strongly opposed banning the NPD, saying the risk of another failure was too great and that this could hand a propaganda victory to the party.
(Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Erica Billingham)