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Thousands protest racism in France

Mon., Feb. 27, 2006

PARIS – Tens of thousands of demonstrators, joined by politicians of all stripes, marched through Paris on Sunday to protest racism and anti-Semitism after the torture and killing of a Paris Jew.

Police said some 33,000 people marched, while organizers said 80,000 to 200,000 people took part.

Smaller marches took place in Strasbourg, Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux, where Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard, just named a cardinal by the pope, joined in.

Several government ministers joined the march in Paris, which made its way from Place de la Republique to La Place de la Nation, in eastern Paris, in a chilling cold.

“Today, we must march, we must stand up to say that in France, each of us has the right to live in dignity whatever his God, his religion, the color of his skin,” said Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.

With punches and boos, a crowd ejected right-wing politician Philippe de Villiers from the march. De Villiers’ Movement for France blames immigration for France’s social ills. Another political party, the extreme-right National Front, was banned from the march by organizers.

The march was called after a 23-year-old cell-phone salesman, Ilan Halimi, was kidnapped Jan. 21, sequestered and tortured for three weeks in the southern Paris suburb of Bagneux. Allegedly held by a suburban gang, he was found naked, handcuffed and covered with burn marks on Feb. 13 near railroad tracks south of Paris. Halimi died on his way to a hospital.

Halimi’s family did not take part in Sunday’s march, which was preceded by a gathering of several hundred people in the southern suburb of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois, where Halimi was found. A maple tree was planted in his memory there.

It remains unclear whether anti-Semitism was the motive for the grisly killing, which may have been part of a suburban extortion racket.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday that Halimi’s attackers were motivated primarily by greed. “But they believed – and I quote – ‘that Jews have money,’ ” he said. “That’s called anti-Semitism.”

Sarkozy said the gang has tried to kidnap six other people since December – four of them Jewish.

“To know whether they acted with anti-Semitism or partly with anti-Semitism is not important because anti-Semitism there was,” Sarkozy said Sunday.


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