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Last Updated: Monday, 17 November, 2003, 23:16 GMT
France vows to fight hate crime
Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin leaves a meeting with the president.
Mr Raffarin (left) said France would 'defend its values'
French President Jacques Chirac has ordered a crackdown on anti-Semitism after a Jewish school was firebombed.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is to lead a ministerial committee charged with tackling anti-Semitism.

And Mr Chirac also unveiled a new urban regeneration programme targeting mainly Muslim areas in French cities, following a meeting with key ministers.

In many cities, the number of attacks on Jews - both verbal and physical - has risen over the past three years.

'Disaffection'

The committee - which is to meet monthly - will draw up a record of "all actions recognised in the country as being acts of anti-Semitism", Mr Raffarin said.

The prime minister said the "heaviest penalties" would be handed down to those found guilty of anti-Semitic or racist acts.

Mr Chirac said the $7bn urban regeneration programme would aim to end the economic marginalisation of communities - particularly Muslim communities - in which poverty and alienation appear to be fuelling anti-Semitism.

"When a Jew is attacked in France, it is an attack on the whole of France," Mr Chirac told reporters.

Unemployment among Muslim youth, many of whom live in poor housing estates on the edge of major French cities, is three times the national average.

The BBC's Alan Little in Paris says the government fears that many young Muslims, already disaffected by high levels of unemployment and poor housing conditions, are further angered by the conflict in the Middle East.

Crackdown

The fire broke out at the Merkaz Hatorah school in Gagny, north of Paris, early on Saturday. No-one was hurt.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who attended Monday's meeting along with the ministers for justice and education, has said the arson attack had an "anti-Semitic and obviously racist connotation".

Merkaz Hatorah school
Nobody was injured in the attack at the Merkaz Hatorah school in Gagny
Mr Chirac held talks with Jewish leaders following his meeting with ministers.

Mr Sarkozy, who has taken a tough line against racist and anti-Semitic acts since the centre-right government came to power in May 2002, has said the arsonists must be severely punished.

France's swift response to the firebombing reflects concern in Paris about charges by Jews abroad that the country's ruling elite are anti-Semitic, correspondents say.

French Jewish leaders reject this, but admit to being worried about continued violence against their community.

France has both the biggest Jewish community in western Europe - of about 600,000 - and the biggest Muslim population, of around five million people.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Allan Little
"What is the source of this new wave of anti-Semitism?"



SEE ALSO:
Rabbi warns of race hate attacks
17 Nov 03  |  Middle East
Sharon urges Jews to go to Israel
17 Nov 03  |  Middle East


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