France declares 'war' on racism after firein Paris Jewish centre

22nd August 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 23 (AFP) - The French government declared "war" on racism Monday, one day after arsonists torched a Jewish centre in Paris and scrawled swastikas inside.

PARIS, Aug 23 (AFP) - The French government declared "war" on racism Monday, one day after arsonists torched a Jewish centre in Paris and scrawled swastikas inside.

"It's on the really strong orders of the president of the republic (Jacques Chirac) that the government declares war on racism, on all racism," Justice Minister Dominique Perben told radio station RMC Info.

On Sunday, unidentified vandals broke into a Jewish centre in an eastern district of the capital to daub swastikas on two refrigerators inside and anti-Semitic slogans such as "Without Jews we would be happy," and "The world would be pure if there were no more Jews".

The centre, located on the ground floor of an apartment block, was then set on fire, completely gutting it.

An Arabic-language statement posted on an Islamic web site claimed the attack in the name of the Group of the Holy Islamic War Supporters and said it was in response to "racist acts by Jews" in France and in the Palestinian territories.

Police said they were investigating the claim, but that it was one of several leads they were following up.

French officials from Chirac on down immediately condemned the attack, which served as a stark reminder of the four-year surge in anti-Jewish acts in France.

Perben rejected an assertion by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France that the government was "lax" on anti-Semitic offenders.

He said state prosecutors had orders to systematically appeal sentences seen as too light in such cases, special appeals judges had been appointed and penalties for racist crimes had twice been increased.

"It's important that the law finds those guilty and that they are judged harshly," he said.

Officials said those responsible for the arson attack faced 20-year prison sentences if caught. Paris police chief Jean-Paul Proust and Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin have vowed to deploy significant manpower and resources to track them down.

The number of anti-Semitic acts committed in the first half of 2004 has jumped, according to interior ministry statistics, with 135 acts of physical violence against Jews, compared to 95 against North African and other ethnic groups.

Incidents this month included a swastika painted in front of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, and swastikas and anti-Semitic messages painted on 60 Jewish graves in Lyon allegedly by a neo-Nazi Frenchman who turned himself in to police.

France is home to Europe's biggest Jewish and Muslim communities, estimated at 650,000 and five million respectively, out of an overall population of 60 million.

The head rabbi for France, Joseph Sitruk, called on Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin to make the fight against racism and anti-Semitism in particular a national priority for his government.

Sitruk told AFP he was to meet Perben on Thursday to examine ways to ensure that perpetrators of anti-Jewish acts are handed sentences "that are truly dissuasive".

"Nobody, not even the authorities, have accurately judged the size of this wave of aggression against the Jewish community. We thought that, as is sometimes the case, it would calm after a few weeks.

"But today it is time to put in place other measures," he said. The Israelite Central Consistory of France, another Jewish body, said Jews expected swift action by authorities and added: "The patience of the Jewish community obviously has its limits."

France's education ministry said it had made fighting racism a "permanent struggle" in classrooms and that any transgression by students would be met with "zero tolerance".

Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe said he would ask the city council next month to increase by a third its budget of EUR 900,000 (USD 1.1 million) already earmarked for the fight against racism and anti-Semitism.

Delanoe said in a statement that the extra funds would be used to improve security and video surveillance of Jewish centres, as well as to fund a public awareness campaign to be launched in the capital next month.


Subject: French news

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