By Ursula Knapp
KARLSRUHE, Germany (Reuters) - Germany's constitutional court began hearings on Tuesday to decide whether to ban the far-right National Democratic Party, with one regional leader saying the party aimed to abolish the country's democratic system.
Germany's federal states filed a petition in 2013 to outlaw the NPD which the domestic intelligence agency has branded racist and anti-semitic and which it says contains neo-Nazis among its leaders.
Banning a political party is difficult in Germany, a result of the crushing of dissent in the Nazi era and in communist East Germany. A previous attempt to ban the NPD collapsed in 2003.
Dietmar Woidke, state premier of the eastern state of Brandenburg, in comments to reporters, said the NPD was striving for the elimination of the "democratic constitutional order".
"It is anti-Semitic, it is xenophobic, and it is one of the intellectual instigators behind the violence, at least indirectly, which we have to deal with in many parts of Germany these days," he said.
Court President Andreas Vosskuhle said parties were considered unconstitutional if they aimed to damage or eliminate the democratic order or jeopardize Germany's existence.
With some 5,200 members, the NPD is more radical than populist anti-immigrant parties elsewhere in Europe such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and France's National Front.
Although it has never won enough support to be represented at a federal level, it secured a European Parliament seat in 2014 and has one seat in the eastern state of Mecklenburg Vorpommern assembly.
With many Germans worried about the migrant crisis, NPD Chairman Frank Franz argued his party is highly relevant.
"All the things the NPD has been warning against for years, is happening now on the political stage," he told reporters.
(Additional reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Madeline Chambers)