German skinheads sang nationalistic hymns at a rally Friday and cheered speakers who railed against foreigners and Chancellor Helmut Kohl, two parties they blame for record unemployment.

Between 3,000 and 4,000 neo-Nazis, mostly young and male, gathered to criticize the government for putting "foreign interests" ahead of German workers.Although the extreme-right National Democratic Party of Germany, or NPD, had expected 15,000 people, Friday's rally was still one of the biggest neo-Nazi gatherings in years.

At the same time, an estimated 5,000 leftists marched through Leipzig to protest right-wing extremism, some carrying signs reading "Death to the fascists" and "Stop the Nazis."

Police turned water cannons on dozens of rioting left-wing extremists to keep them away from the park where the neo-Nazi rally was being held.

At least three officers were injured in skirmishes, 27 demonstrators from both the left and right were arrested, and 67 protesters were temporarily detained.

More than 6,000 officers patrolled around Leipzig, searching for weapons.

Holger Apfel, head of the NPD's youth wing, was cheered when he urged the government to deport foreigners he accused of stealing jobs from Germans or milking the country's welfare system.

Officials in the eastern city of Leipzig tried three times to ban the extreme-rightist rally, citing the potential for violence. But they were overruled each time in court.

The German People's Union - another far-right party - last month won a jolting 13 percent in elections in the depressed eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, alarming European columnists and Jewish leaders. Officials said the strong showing contributed to Friday's big turnout.