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FILE PHOTO: Journalists observe the German Parliamentary Society offices, where the exploratory talks about forming a new coalition government between CDU/CSU, Green Party and the Free democratic Party (FDP) are held, in Berlin, Germany, October 20, 2017. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

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BERLIN (Reuters) - The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) on Saturday dropped a controversial bid for data on the ethnic backgrounds and private views of journalists after concerns surfaced about its registration form for a party congress.

The party's initial registration form had sparked sharp criticism on Friday from the German Journalists Association, and prompted an investigation by the Berlin data protection office.

The party, which rails against what it calls the "Islamisation of Europe" and "fake news" coverage by mainstream news outlets, became the third largest force in the German Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, in Sept. 24 elections.

AfD officials had declined to comment to the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper, which first reported the issue on Friday, and did not respond to a request for comment by Reuters.

However the party's spokesman downplayed controversy about the issue in a posting on Twitter on Saturday.

"Test version deleted. Starting immediately journalists can use the official registration form on our website," AfD spokesman Christian Lueth wrote on Twitter.

The initial media version had asked journalists to check a box in which they agreed to the collection, storage and use of personal data provided, such as name, medium and press pass number, as well as "special data".

The form referenced a section in Germany's data protection law, which lists such "special data" as including racial and ethnic background, political views, religious or philosophical convictions, union membership, health or sexual orientation.

Other parties require basic information for registration of journalists, but do not ask for such personal details.

"This is an unacceptable intrusion into the private affairs of journalists," said Hendrik Zoerner, spokesman for the German Journalists Association. "We call on the AfD to immediately remove the required agreement."

The AfD won nearly 13 percent of vote on Sept. 24, making it the third largest party in the Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, and the first far-right group to move into the legislature in more than half a century.

German civil rights groups are mobilising to stage a large protest at the start of the party congress in the northern city of Hanover on Dec. 2.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Hans-Edzard Busemann; Editing by Alison Williams and Stephen Powell)

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