BONN, GERMANY — BONN, Germany -- Germany moved early today to choke off the growing influx of foreigners from the world's poorer countries as the main opposition Social Democrats voted to restrict the country's virtual open-door policy to those claiming political asylum.
The decision came shortly after midnight on the opening day of a special party conference. It followed a sharp, often emotional debate that unfolded against the backdrop of xenophobic, right-wing extremist violence in Germany. Much of that violence has been directed at asylum-seekers flooding into the country from poorer European and Third World nations.
The mood at the conference hall carried a sense of urgency and reflected the belief among a growing number of mainstream politicians in Germany that established parties must move quickly to shore up confidence in the country's democracy.
Party Chairman Bjoern Engholm, in a keynote speech to the conference, expressed worry, "about the stability of Germany, a nation that previously had belonged to the most stable countries in Europe."
Ignatz Bubis, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who spoke briefly as an honorary guest, warned that all mainstream parties must seek consensus on key issues or face the prospect of a return to the chaos that brought down Germany's ill-fated Weimar Republic and paved the way for Hitler's Third Reich.
The Social Democrats' vote effectively clears the way for talks with Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government to amend a German constitutional provision that allows automatic entry to all declaring themselves victims of political persecution, no matter their country of origin.
The assent of both the government and the opposition Social Democrats is required to achieve the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to amend the constitution. Such an amendment would close one of the most often used methods of entry of would-be migrants from poorer countries into the affluent nations of Western Europe.