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Last Updated: Friday, 9 July, 2004, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Chirac vows to fight race attacks
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC correspondent in Paris

Defaced gravestones, Hagenau, Alsace
Both Jewish and Muslim cemeteries have been desecrated
The French President, Jacques Chirac, has condemned recent acts of racism and anti-Semitism in France, saying he will do all he can to stop them.

He announced a new independent authority whose task will be to fight all forms of discrimination.

He was speaking in the town of Chambon-sur-Lignon, whose inhabitants saved many Jews from the Nazis.

Political parties and pressure groups warn that racist and anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise in France.

'Signs of ignorance'

They welcomed Mr Chirac's call to arms.

He described such attacks as "appalling and despicable acts" which brought shame on his country.

And he spoke also of recent attacks against French Muslims.

All such acts, he said, were signs of ignorance and stupidity, which mirrored the darkest side of the human soul.

The president promised that the perpetrators would be pursued relentlessly by the law.

Jewish-Muslim tensions

His speech was given in a highly symbolic place: a French village that defied the Nazis and French collaborators to rescue Jewish families during World War II.

Mr Chirac was the first French president to acknowledge his country's responsibility for deporting tens of thousands of Jews to the death camps.

Now, he is clearly worried by the racial and religious tensions in France, particularly between the Jewish and Muslim communities, prompted partly by events in the Middle East.

Attacks on synagogues and mosques, as well as Jewish and Muslim cemeteries, appear to be on the rise, prompting Mr Chirac's urgent call for national unity.

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