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French Lawmakers Adopt Racism Bill

December 10, 2002

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PARIS (AP) _ Lawmakers unanimously adopted a bill Tuesday that toughens penalties against racist and anti-Semitic acts following a wave of attacks on Jewish sites in France.

``Racism constitutes the most severe and intolerable attack on the freedom of man,″ Pierre Bedier, a junior justice minister, told parliament. ``Recent events indicate a worrisome increase in the number of crimes inspired by anti-Semitism.″

The legislation passed in the National Assembly requires approval by the Senate before it becomes law. It is part of a widespread crackdown on crime by the center-right government of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

The vote came just days after vandals broke into a synagogue in southwestern France, ransacking the sanctuary and destroying holy books.

Such crimes committed ``because of a victim’s real or presumed ethnicity, race or religion″ will be more severely punished under the new bill. Officials also will face more pressure to prosecute racist and anti-Semitic attacks.

The vandalism at the synagogue last Thursday was the first reported violence against a Jewish target in France in several months, after more than 400 attacks on schools, temples and cemeteries across the country.

In the most serious violence, which has coincided with heightened tensions in the Middle East, a synagogue in the southern city of Marseille was burned down in March.

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