German President Joachim Gauck has met with relatives of victims slain by the neo-Nazi group the National Socialist Underground (NSU). Some of the invited guests declined their invitations, however.
Dozens of guests traveled to Schloss Bellevue, Gauck's Berlin residence, on Monday for a meeting with the president. The private event lasted approximately two hours, according to German ombudsman Barbara John.
During the private audience, President Gauck pledged to pursue the investigation until sufficient answers were found and to ensure that the families' suffering wouldn't be forgotten.
"I too was appalled at the mistakes," he said, referring to oversights by government agencies investigating the murders.
He said he would make sure that "public authorities give sufficient explanations and call mistakes mistakes," adding that he would seek consequences in those cases, too.
A series of NSU murders claimed 10 lives between 2000 and 2007, including eight people of Turkish origin, one Greek immigrant and a policewoman.
Police had originally attributed the killings to gang-related crime until the apparent suicide of NSU members Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boenhardt on November 4, 2011, led to the discovery of the activities of the underground neo-Nazi group. Since the revelations, a number of bombing attacks and bank robberies have also been linked to the trio.
The case has since drawn attention to what appears to be widespread negligence by German investigators who had failed to link the murders to right-wing extremists.
The German government has apologized to the families of the victims, but Gauck's visit aimed to move reconciliation forward with them, as they still feel the injustice of the massive failure of investigators and are seeking answers.
Monday's reception was not the first of its kind. Former German President Christian Wulff, who was in office at the time of the discovery of the NSU murders, also held a similar meeting.
Ombudsman: 'We failed'
Prior to the meeting, Barbara John, the government's ombudsman, gave several interviews on German public television to discuss the declined invitations.
The fact that investigators had suspected some of their relatives for years in the murder case, while still insisting they had conducted their search properly, "must make them angry and this is how they express it," said John on the morning news show Morgenmagazin, which aired on public station ZDF.
One guest reportedly refused to attend because the office of the president had refused to allow her to bring an attorney to the private event.
It was unclear how many invitations had been declined.
Monday's private session with the German president followed a recent trip by the government's special NSU investigative committee to Turkey, where most of the deceased had originated.
The failings to properly identify the culprits have drawn sharp criticism from Turkey, which accuses Germany of shaking the trust of millions of residents of Turkish origin.
Looking ahead to the April trial of Beate Zschäpe - the surviving member of the NSU - and four other suspects - the committee's chairman Sebastian Edathy said he would ask Munich judges to allow seats to be reserved for top Turkish observers. The trial is expected to be one of Germany's largest in the postwar era, with 600 witnesses due to testify.
kms/mkg (AFP, Reuters, dpa, epd)
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