Sunday, February 26, 2006
HUGE MARCHES IN FRANCE AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM AND RACISM TODAY
Tens of thousands marched in cities throughout France Sunday against anti-Semitism and in tribute to a young Jewish man who was kidnapped and tortured to death.The protest marches were called by French Jewish and anti-racist groups following the murder of 23-year-old Ilan Halimi, a Jewish telephone salesman. Seventeen people have been arrested for the crime, including the alleged leader of the gang, 25-year-old Youssef Fofana, who fled to his native Ivory Coast, where he was apprehended. The first report is from the Tocqueville Connection and AFP. The second is from SwissInfo.com.
FRENCH MARCHES DENOUNCE ANTI-SEMITISM AFTER JEWISH MAN'S MURDER
Tens of thousands of people protesting racism and anti-Semitism held marches in France 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, which, among other tactics, apparently used young women as bait to lure men into a trap. He was 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.
Tipped off by one of the "sex-bait" women, police quickly swooped on a number of suspects, which has grown to 17 with recent arrests.
The alleged ringleader, identified by prosecutors as Youssef Fofana, 25, was arrested in the Ivory Coast capital Abidjan and France has requested his extradition.
Fofana, a convicted petty criminal of Ivorian origin and with French citizenship, is suspected of being behind two other extortion rackets that involved threatening doctors, businessmen and minor celebrities.
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.
"He has shown no remorse, no regret," an investigator said of Fofana, who was expected to be extradited to France within a week.
On Saturday, two of the young women and a male suspect were placed under formal, criminal investigation as a precursor to being charged on kidnapping and illegal detention counts.
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 xeonophobic 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."
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".
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-Fran‡ois 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.
French march against racism after Jew's killing
Tens of thousands of people marched through Paris and other French cities on Sunday to denounce racism and anti-Semitism following the torture and killing of a young Jewish kidnap victim.
Politicians from left and right joined the marchers under banners declaring "France united against barbarism" to express their shock over the gang killing, which Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has denounced as an anti-Semitic crime.
Mobile phone salesman Ilan Halimi, 23, was found naked, with burns and stab wounds, south of Paris earlier this month after being held for three weeks by a gang demanding a large ransom. He died of his injuries shortly afterwards.
Youssef Fofana, a French citizen, has been arrested in Ivory Coast on suspicion of leading the gang that kidnapped him.
"There is no political connotation (to the march). This is a demonstration by the people of France who are more than outraged by what happened," said Joseph Sitruk, France's chief rabbi.
"We are here also to say that all racist crimes are unacceptable in our society and that we must be very vigilant because it is a situation which is starting to be worrying," said Jean-Michel Quillardet, head of the Grand Orient of France.
Thousands more people marched in other cities. In the southwestern city of Bordeaux, protesters marched behind a photograph of Halimi reading: "Rest in peace, Ilan."
Marchers in Paris included Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy from the centre right, and Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande and former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin form the left wing.
Independent right-wing politician Philippe de Villers was prevented from taking part. Police escorted him away because his presence angered many of the Paris marchers.
Tension ran high at times in Paris as a group of angry young people, some of them wearing masks, chanted violent slogans against Fofana. Police kept a close watch nearby.
FRENCH PEOPLE IN SHOCK
The murder has shocked France, which has Europe's largest Muslim and Jewish minorities. Muslims number about 5 million and Jews 600,000.
Many Arabs and Jews are immigrants and live uneasily side-by-side in poor neighborhoods. Disaffected Muslim youths were widely blamed for a wave of anti-Semitic violence earlier this decade.
Thirteen people have been indicted in Paris in the case, of whom 11 are being held. Five more have been detained elsewhere in France and a suspect has been arrested in Belgium.
Fofana is expected to be handed over to French authorities once legal formalities are sorted out.
French police have said Fofana called himself the "brain of the barbarians" and accuse his gang of trying to kidnap six other people, four of them Jewish.
President Jacques Chirac and Villepin attended a memorial ceremony for Halimi on Thursday. Interim Ivory Coast Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny has said he does not think the crime had an anti-Semitic connotation.