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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's senate on Friday asked the constitutional court to ban state funding for the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), the country's longest-established neo-Nazi group, responding to concerns at growing nationalism in parts of the country.

Scarred by memories of the collapse of democracy in the 1930s amid the rise of Adolf Hitler's Nazis, Germany has some of the strictest laws on political extremism in the world, with rules allowing the banning of anti-democratic parties.

Members of the upper house, which represents Germany's 16 federal states, voted unanimously in favour of an application to the constitutional court to stop the financing.

"Ours is a democracy based on debate, but it must also be defended," Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, premier of the state of Saarland, told the chamber.

Friday's vote came four months after a national election in which the Alternative for Germany (AfD) became the first far-right party to enter parliament in decades.

Parties that win election to public office in Germany become eligible for generous public financing, designed to fund party organisations and think tanks to raise the quality of policy and public debate.

The NPD's lone member of the European Parliament made the party eligible for around a million euros of public funding in 2016. The party, which sees immigration as a danger to the "survival of the German people in its Central European Lebensraum", is no longer in any regional parliament.

Germany's security services have repeatedly attempted to ban the party as unconstitutional but have always been thwarted by courts, who on one occasion found that the party was so riddled with undercover agents that it was impossible to tell what was a genuine party decision and what was not.

(Reporting by Hans-Edzard Busemann and Markus Wacket, writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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