Demonstrators protest against anti-Semitism

27th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 26, 2006 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of people protesting racism and anti-Semitism held marches in France on Sunday in memory of a Jewish kidnap victim tortured and killed by a violent extortion gang.

PARIS, Feb 26, 2006 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of people protesting racism and anti-Semitism held marches in France on Sunday in memory of a Jewish kidnap victim tortured and killed by a violent extortion gang.

Jewish and anti-racism groups organising the main rally in Paris said up to 200,000 people walked through the east of the capital, past the mobile telephone shop where the murdered man, Ilan Halimi, worked.

Police put their number at 33,000.

Some lit candles or released white balloons as they passed the shop, while others sang the French national anthem or chanted Jewish prayers.

Halimi's abduction and murder has sent shockwaves through the country, and raised tensions between France's large Jewish and Muslim communities.

Halimi, 23, was kidnapped in January by the gang and held for three weeks while his abductors sent ransom demands to his family.

On February 13, Halimi was discovered, naked, bound and gagged, with horrific burns and stab injuries, alongside a railway track near Paris. He died while being taken to hospital.

The gang's alleged ringleader, identified by prosecutors as Youssef Fofana, 25, was arrested in Ivory Coast and France has requested his extradition.

Questioned by police, he allegedly said the gang targeted Halimi because he was presumed as a Jew to be wealthy, but denied being the killer or that anti-Semitism was the motive.

Police said they had confirmation that four of six other potential kidnap victims tracked by the gang were also Jewish.

Although the gang allegedly includes whites, blacks and Arabs, media attention has focused on its Muslim members, stoking animosity between members of France's 500,000-strong Jewish community and the five-million-strong Muslim population.

The Paris demonstration included figures from across the political spectrum, including Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as the leaders of rights groups, unions, student bodies, and Jewish and Muslim associations.

Notably absent, however, were members of the victim's family.

One far-right politician who attempted to participate, Philippe de Villiers, leader of the Movement for France party, was forcibly expelled by private security guards employed by the organisers, while members of the xenophobic National Front party led by Jean-Marie Le Pen did not attend, police said, despite vows to do so.

Roger Cukierman, the head of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), which organised the marches with two left-wing anti-racism groups, said: "It's important for French society to realise that little anti-Semite and racist prejudices can have terrible consequences."

In the eastern city of Strasbourg between 2,000 and 2,500 people, according to organisers, also gathered in silence to protest against the killing.

Silent marches of between 1,000 and 2,000 people also took place in the cities of Lyon and Bordeaux, with demonstrators carrying pictures of Halimi and banners reading "Rest in Peace, Ilan".

Across the English Channel in London a crowd of about 50 sympathisers gathered in front of the French embassy to remember the victim, in what ambassador Gerard Erreta said was "a show of solidarity and vigilance," in the face of anti-Semitism.

And in Jerusalem several hundred Israelis of French origin demonstrated in solidarity with French Jews following the murder.

"The martyrdom of Ilan reminds us that anti-Semitism still kills 60 years after Auschwitz," Rabbi Jacques Gruenwald told the gathering.

The French government was wary about drawing too heavy a link between the criminal gang responsible for Halimi's murder and anti-Jewish sentiment, however.

Past incidents in which apparently anti-Semitic crimes turned out to be staged or committed for other motives seemed to lie behind its cautious stance.

A government spokesman, Jean-François Cope, told French radio that while there were "strong suspicions" of anti-Semitic motives in "this horrible affair", investigators were still getting to the bottom of the case.

"Absolutely everything must be done to know all the details" before conclusions about racism or anti-Semitism were drawn, he said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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