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Thursday, 21 December, 2000, 03:30 GMT
Quebecois crisis over 'anti-Semitism'
Former Canadian premier Jacques Parizeau
Former premier Jacques Parizeau has backed Mr Michaud
By Mike Fox in Montreal

The separatist party in Quebec is in the midst of a deepening political crisis over comments made by a parliamentary candidate which have been described by his critics as anti-Semitic.

Yves Michaud, a veteran member of the Parti Quebecois, started the controversy when he said last week that Jews are not the only people to have suffered.

The comments were seen as trivialising the Holocaust and were condemned by the Quebec National Assembly and its leader, Lucien Bouchard.

His party leadership was also quick to condemn the comments in an effort to minimise what they felt were embarrassing comments.

Minorities attacked

Mr Michaud, a long-time hardliner who wants to see Quebec separate from Canada, said ethnic communities in Quebec were intolerant because they vote against sovereignty.

Concentration camp
Yves Michaud says Jewish suffering has been exaggerated
He also characterised members of a leading Jewish organisation, B'nai Brith, as terrorists and anti-Quebec, and went on to say that Jews think they were the only ones who have suffered throughout history.

The Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously to condemn the statement.

But the controversy gained momentum when other separatist hardliners, led by the former premier Jacques Parizeau, backed Mr Michaud.

He argued that the assembly had acted outside its powers in passing the motion.

Just after losing the independence referendum in 1995 by a narrow margin, Mr Parizeau gained notoriety by blaming what he described as money and the ethnic vote for his party's defeat.

Power struggle

On Wednesday, Mr Michaud stood by his comments, saying he had nothing to apologise for, and called on Mr Bouchard to back down and let him stand in the election.

Lucien Bouchard.
Lucien Bouchard is facing a test of his support
The Parti Quebecois leader responded by saying he could not accept Mr Michaud as a by-election candidate and that no democracy could accept what he said about Jews.

He hoped that reflection over the holiday would lead to a change of heart. But if that doesn't happen, Mr Bouchard lacks the powers to force Mr Michaud to stand down.

That needs a two-thirds majority of the party executive - which Mr Bouchard may well not be able to muster. As a result, his own leadership is now being questioned.

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