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Attack on Jewish cemetery stirs outrage in France
Updated: 2004-08-11 02:35

Vandals daubed swastikas and slogans on 56 graves and a war memorial in a Jewish cemetery in eastern France, the latest in a spate of attacks on Jewish, Muslim and Christian property that have shocked France.

Police officers inspect graves desecrated by vandals with Nazi swastikas and graffiti in a Jewish cemetery in Lyon, France August 10, 2004. [Reuters]

The attackers also used black paint to scrawl slogans glorifying Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and declaring "Resistance to the Islamist invasion" on some of the graves on Monday evening in a cemetery in Lyon, France's second city.

President Jacques Chirac, the government, opposition and Jewish leaders on Tuesday condemned the attack, which prompted calls for tougher action to prevent such vandalism.

More than 300 tombs or graves have been desecrated in eastern France since April -- many in Jewish cemeteries but also some Muslim and a few Christian graves -- despite a drive led by Chirac to eradicate racism and protect France's tolerant image.

"It is very symbolic to see graves that bear the Star of David defaced by a swastika," Richard Wertenschlag, Lyon's chief rabbi, said at the cemetery. "It's an indescribable shock."

He noted that the attack coincided with the 60th anniversary of France's liberation from Nazi occupation in World War II and described it as an attack on the Jewish community.

Police said they were questioning two people who were in the area when a warden found the graffiti on Monday evening but had no evidence against them. They have failed to identify those responsible for the other recent attacks.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said the attack was odious, Chirac called it cowardly and Justice Minister Dominique Perben visited the cemetery. All expressed solidarity with the Jewish community and vowed to fight anti-Semitism.

But patience with the authorities is running out and alarm is growing among France's 600,000 Jews and five million Muslims -- western Europe's biggest Jewish and Muslim communities.

"A crackdown is needed to make these people (attackers) realize the consequences of their acts," Wertenschlag said.

The CRIF umbrella group representing Jewish organizations appealed for more tolerance in society and said it regretted the attack on the war memorial, which honors all Jews killed in the war.

Their words echoed those of Abdellah Boussouf, rector of Strasbourg mosque, after 15 Muslim graves were desecrated in a war cemetery in the eastern city last Friday.

"I can no longer be content now with the condemnations and solidarity pledges of political rulers. I want results," he said last Saturday. "France's Muslims as a whole have the feeling they are considered second-class citizens."

France has only just ended a row with Israel after its prime minister, Ariel Sharon, urged French Jews in July to emigrate to Israel to escape "the wildest anti-Semitism."

French leaders say they have boosted protection for Jewish schools and synagogues and blame some of the recent tension on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Racist and anti-Semitic acts in France soared in the first half of 2004, the Interior Ministry says, totaling 135 physical acts against Jews and 95 against other ethnic groups.

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