Mother and baby attack stunsFrance, sparks crime debate

12th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 12 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac has added racism to a list of crimes excluded under his annual Bastille Day clemency given to prisoners after a shocking anti-Semitic assault on a young mother and her baby underscored a sharp rise in hate attacks.

PARIS, July 12 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac has added racism to a list of crimes excluded under his annual Bastille Day clemency given to prisoners after a shocking anti-Semitic assault on a young mother and her baby underscored a sharp rise in hate attacks.  

Chirac's office announced the decision Monday, as the victim met a senior government official to describe the assault, in which a gang cut her clothes and drew swastikas on her body after mistaking her for a Jew.  

The attack, on a suburban Paris train last Friday, has drawn fierce condemnation from politicians, civil rights groups and Jewish associations, and national newspapers gave it front-page prominence under such headlines as "The Train of Hate" and "Vile and Stupid".  

Faced with the outcry and acutely aware of possible damage to France's reputation abroad, authorities have pushed a crackdown on anti-Semitic acts to the top of their priorities.  

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin on Monday said: "Anti-Semitism is a disgrace. We want to fight this sort of intolerable racism."  

Speaking on the sidelines of a trip to western France, he called on every citizen to make a stand.  

"There is also something wrong in our society: it's the indifference to violence," he said.  

"What happened to this young mother can happen to all mothers, can happen to all children."  

Chirac himself called the attack "shameful" in a weekend statement.  

Only one day before it happened, he had called for a national struggle against all forms of racism, and his government announced tough new law-and-order policies would be unveiled in September to counter the dramatic increase in hate crimes recorded this year.  

The target of Friday's attack, a 23-year-old woman identified in the press as Marie L. who was travelling on a train with her 13-month-old baby, met Monday with the secretary of state for victims' rights, Nicole Guedj.  

She left an hour later in a car with darkened windows without giving comment to the media.  

Guedj made a public appeal for passengers in the train to come forward to help identify the gang.  

"She told me there were some 20 people who could have seen what happened, especially a young man sitting nearby. She's counting on him to make himself known," Guedj said.  

The official said that authorities would be sympathetic about the lack of response by the man, saying "we can also understand the fear he might have felt being so close to these armed men".  

Six unidentified men said to be of North African Arab and African origin grabbed the victim, robbed her, cut her hair and clothes with knives and drew three swastikas on her body.  

They also overturned the woman's pram with her baby inside.   Police said the attackers' motivation appeared anti-Semitic.  

The gang assumed - wrongly - that the woman was Jewish because the woman's identity card gave her old address in Paris's well-heeled 16th district.  

"Only Jews live in the 16th district," one of the men was quoted as having said.   The gang forcibly held her head down so she could not see their faces, according to a report in Le Monde newspaper. After tormenting her for 13 minutes, they got off at a station and fled.  

Police were examining video surveillance records and deployed officers on the train line Monday to try to find anyone who might have seen the attackers.  

According to interior ministry statistics, the number of racist incidents has soared this year.  

There were 135 physical acts (vandalism, arson, assault, and attacks or attempted attacks) against Jews in the first half of 2004, compared to 127 for all of 2003, according to the statistics.  

For the same period, there were another 95 acts against other ethnic groups -- mainly those of North African Arab background - compared to 92 for all of last year.  

The country is home to Europe's biggest Jewish and Muslim communities, estimated at 600,000 and five million respectively.

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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