In Rare Unity, French From Left and Right Rally for Mideast Peace
PARIS (AP) _ United by horror over bombings that have bloodied Israel, thousands of Parisians set aside ideological differences for a peace vigil near the Eiffel Tower on Wednesday.
Cabinet ministers from the conservative government, union leaders and top leftist politicians mingled with one another _ a rare scene in France.
``There are causes that go beyond the habitual cleavages,″ said Education Minister Francois Bayrou. ``This is a good way to show France is with the victims, with those who live through this horror, with those who must push through the peace process.″
Human rights, Jewish and anti-racism groups along with nearly all major political parties organized the dusk rally at Trocadero Plaza, across the Seine from the light-flooded Eiffel Tower.
Turnout figures from the police weren’t immediately available, but about 5,000 people massed on the vast Human Rights Square between two museums. Young people arranged hundreds of candles on the ground to create a large Star of David. Others laid wreaths.
Cecile Steiner, a 22-year-old student, said she came to the vigil ``because I’m outraged by this butchery, and the idea that it could derail the peace accords″ between Israel and the Palestinians.
Leila Shahid, the Paris representative of Yasser Arafat’s self-rule government, laid a wreath in memory of the latest Israeli bombing victims. Next to her was Israeli Ambassador Avi Pazner. The day before, the pair had argued heatedly on French television about who is to blame for the latest crisis between Israelis and Palestinians.
The rally was billed as a silent vigil, but a small group from Israel’s extreme-rightist Betar organization burned a Palestinian flag and chanted ``Arafat Assassin!″ Hundreds of other participants, though, immediately drowned them out by chanting ``Peace! Peace! Peace!″ in French and Hebrew.
Honoring the vigil, the National Assembly shut down for 15 minutes.
Also Wednesday, hearings began in Bordeaux for Maurice Papon, who was a high-ranking official of the Vichy collaborationist regime during the Nazi occupation. He stands accused of ordering the arrest and deportation of 1,690 Jews, including 240 children. Papon, 86, describes himself and fellow Vichy officials in Bordeaux as ``powerless spectators″ to the crimes.
Many French harbor feelings of guilt over the treatment of Jews during the Nazi occupation, when the Vichy regime rounded up 76,000 Jews and deported them to Nazi death camps. Only about 2,500 survived.
Today, about 535,000 Jews live in France _ less than 1 percent of the population. By comparison, the country has about 3 million Muslims, a third of them French.