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Interior Minister Blames Rightist For Desecration of Tombs

May 11, 1990

PARIS (AP) _ The interior minister said today he held far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen indirectly responsible for the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in which a corpse was dug up and impaled on an umbrella.

Le Pen denied responsibility and said the desecration of 34 tombs at the cemetery in south-central Carpentras was probably planned by people who wanted to discredit the extreme right.

France’s National Assembly suspended its session for 15 minutes today in protest, and leaders across the political spectrum reacted with outrage at the vandalism, which was discovered early Thursday.

Relatives held an impromptu religious ceremony at the cemetery, while about 50 Jewish demonstrators gathered outside under a banner reading ″We Will Not Let History Repeat Itself.″

Interior Minister Pierre Joxe said several tombs in Carpentras were left ″in conditions so abominable that one can’t describe them without embarrassment.″ Joxe traveled to the town to inspect the site.

The body of an 81-year-old man who died about two weeks ago was found impaled on an umbrella, police said. Grave markers had been knocked over and flower pots were trampled.

A previously unknown group calling itself the ″Mohamed El Boukima Group″ claimed responsibility in a phone call to a local newspaper. Police said they were trying to authenticate the call.

Authorities said the fingerprints of at least four people were found on tomb stones.

The incident occurred two days after a nationwide telecast of a three-hour documentary about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

Officials in Strasbourg, meanwhile, reported that a Jewish cemetery there had been desecrated. Twenty tomb stones were overturned between April 12 and May 4 at the Wissembourg Israelite cemetery, they said.

And in a related incident, swastikas and Nazi graffiti were scrawled on official buildings in Rambouillet, near Paris, officials said.

Joxe said Le Pen, of the extreme-right National Front, was a ″racist and provocateur.″ The far-right party has been accused of condoning anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.

″Consequently, he, like all racists, like all who express their anti- Semitism in an explicit or implicit fashion, he is obviously one of those responsible, not by the acts at Carpentras yesterday, by all that has been inspired by racist hate for years.″

Le Pen, in Denmark for a meeting of right-wing European politicians, said the incident was a plot to soil his party’s reputation.

″It seems more and more evident that it is a political plot against the National Front,″ he said from his hotel north of Copenhagen. ″I don’t feel guilty at all in this case. I condemn those who did this, and I condemn all those who organized this.″

After Le Pen left the hotel, about 400 demonstrators threw paint, smoke bombs and empty bottles at police, Danish radio reported. The demonstration, which appeared unrelated to the tomb desecrations in France, occurred outside the Marienlyst Hotel in Helsingoer, 25 miles north of Copenhagen.

Protesters shouted ″fascists″ and ″Le Pen go home,″ and several windows were smashed by stones.

In a telegram to Carpentras Jewish leader Freddy Haddad, President Francois Mitterrand said, ″I learned with horror of this criminal act.″

Mitterrand later went to the home of France’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Sitruk, to express his distress. ″I’ve come as one does for a family in mourning,″ Mitterrand said.

Jean Kahn, leader of a national coalition of Jewish groups, said the desecration comes at a time when racial hatred is being encouraged ″by those who promote anti-Semitic rhetoric and fascist themes.″

Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, who left the gala dinner opening the Cannes film festival after learning of the desecration, said a racist climate was on the rise in France.

″French society must now examine its conscience - and urgently,″ he said.

Mayor Jean-Claude Andrieu described Carpentras as a quiet town of about 26,000.

Recent polls show about 15 percent of the electorate support Le Pen and his National Front Party, which has one seat in the 277-seat National Assembly. Le Pen won 11 percent of the vote in the first round of the 1988 presidential election. Le Pen has become increasingly visible as the Socialist government tries to deal with immigration and racism, top issues in France today.

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