'Anti-Semite' victim arrest clouds Chirac TV appearance

13th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 13 (AFP) - French police on Tuesday placed the alleged victim of an anti-Semitic attack in preventive detention, as doubts mounted over whether she had been assaulted last week by a gang of youths in a Paris suburban train.

PARIS, July 13 (AFP) - French police on Tuesday placed the alleged victim of an anti-Semitic attack in preventive detention, as doubts mounted over whether she had been assaulted last week by a gang of youths in a Paris suburban train.

After questioning the 23-year-old woman for a second time since Friday's alleged incident, police said she had been detained for a maximum of 48 hours as investigators searched for witnesses to corroborate her story.

The woman said six youths -- apparently mistaking her for a Jew -- slashed her clothes, drawn swastikas on her stomach and flipped over her baby carriage with her 13-month-old child inside.

But despite government pleas for witnesses to come forward, no one had yet contacted police to describe the incident, which shocked the nation and drew condemnation from politicians, civil rights groups and Jewish associations.

"There are elements that have cast a large shadow of doubt on her statements," admitted Paris police chief Jean-Paul Proust, saying he could not draw any conclusions until investigators wrapped up their probe.

As the investigation continued, French President Jacques Chirac - who roundly condemned Friday's alleged incident - was preparing for his traditional Bastille Day televised interview, during which the issue of race and hate crimes was sure to come up.  

The French leader excluded racist crimes from his annual July 14 clemency for prisoners, while Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said: "Anti-Semitism is a disgrace. We want to fight this sort of intolerable racism."  

The number of racist incidents recorded in France - home to Europe's largest Jewish and Muslim communities - soared in the first half of the year, according to interior ministry statistics.  

The woman, identified only as Marie-Leonie L. in the press, said her alleged attackers believed her to be Jewish after discovering that she had once lived in the French capital's swank 16th arrondissement.  

"Only Jews live in the 16th district," one of the men was quoted as saying, as the group purportedly assaulted the woman, swiped her bag and tipped over her baby carriage with her 13-month-old child inside before fleeing the scene.  

But investigators said closed-circuit cameras at the station north of Paris where the woman said the attackers had boarded the train did not reveal the presence of six youths. Police fanned out along train lines to search for witnesses.  

The woman said some 20 people had been in the train car at the time of the incident, prompting shock across the country that no one had come to her aid - failing to help a person in danger is punishable by up to five years in jail.  

Police had not yet located a couple who the woman said had helped her after the attack. Meanwhile, a 28-year-old man told AFP he had seen the woman on the platform of the station where she said she boarded the train before the attack.   He said her clothes were already torn and she was crying. "I asked her if she wanted help, and she said no," the man said.  

Railway personnel at the ticket office where the woman said she reported the affair could remember nothing about it, investigators said.  

"First we find something that puts us in doubt. Then another element makes the story seem plausible. We won't be certain until we find a witness that was in the RER train," one police source told the Liberation newspaper.  

"Contradictions have appeared. There are not enough elements of proof,"  said another police union official, Bruno Beschizza.  

A police source told AFP on Tuesday that the woman had filed six prior complaints in recent years - one for theft and one for sexual assault - but that the alleged criminals had never been found.  

Last week, Chirac called for perpetrators of anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic acts to face tough punishment, saying they would be "pursued without respite".  

But France's political elite, which had initially flocked to the woman's side, seemed to be backing away.  

"I hope there's not going to be too much doubt about this affair," the Socialist president of the Ile-de-France region, Jean-Paul Huchon, whispered to state secretary for victims' rights Nicole Guedj in an aside recorded and broadcast by France 2 television.

 

© Combine reports from AFP

 

Subject: French news

 

 

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