National Front Insists It Didn’t Desecrate Jewish Cemetery
PARIS (AP) _ About 10,000 members and supporters of the extreme-right National Front held a march Saturday to demand that the government publicly exonerate them in the desecration of a Jewish cemetery five years ago.
Lacking evidence against members of the party led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has long been accused of anti-Semitism, investigators quietly dropped the Front in recent months as a possible source of suspects.
Front members organized the march in the mountain town of Carpentras, about 60 miles northwest of the Mediterranean port of Marseilles, to push for an announcement that the Front no longer was the focus of the investigation.
``The National Front has come to proclaim its innocence,″ Le Pen said in Carpentras, the town of about 26,000.
Beneath a banner declaring, ``Carpentras: Five Years of Lies,″ Le Pen said he would press for an official apology and unspecified cash damages.
Police said about 2,000 people took part in counter-demonstrations organized by the Socialist and Communist parties. No violence was reported.
On May 10, 1990, the Jewish cemetery in Carpentras was found to have been horribly desecrated. The corpse of an 81-year-old man buried two weeks earlier was impaled on an umbrella, 34 tombstones were toppled or snapped in two and flower pots were trampled.
``If there’s someone who deserves an apology, it’s our family and the others whose tombs were profaned,″ said Alain Germon, a cousin of the elderly man whose corpse was dug up and mutilated during the desecration.
Political leaders reacted with outrage to the desecration, one of the worst such incidents ever in France. It occurred two days after a nationwide telecast of a documentary about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.
No one claimed responsibility and no arrests were made. Investigators still don’t know who vandalized the cemetery.
Judicial sources say the vandals may have been local youths. Prosecutor Jean-Michel Tissot all but ruled out the National Front, an early suspect because of Le Pen’s frequent anti-Semitic statements.
On Saturday, Le Pen again angered Jewish leaders by repeating his long-held view that the gas chambers used by the Nazis during World War II were ``probably essential.″
``The National Front is not xenophobic. It is French-loving and patriotic. It prefers the French,″ he said later. ``We consider Jews and Arabs as men like any others, neither superior nor inferior.″
Le Pen got 15 percent of the vote in last May’s presidential elections by pledging to deport 3 million immigrants, who are seen by some French as competing for jobs at a time of 12 percent unemployment.