100,000 in Paris march against racism

Large turnout propelled by grisly torture and murder of Ilan Halimi.

paris march halimi 298 (photo credit: AP)
paris march halimi 298
(photo credit: AP)
Some one hundred thousand demonstrators, including ministers and politicians of all stripes, joined in a show of force against racism and anti-Semitism on Sunday, marching through the French capital after the torture and killing of a Paris Jew, 23-year-old Ilan Halimi. Nonetheless, a Jewish community in France spokesman expressed disappointment Monday morning that most of the marchers were Jewish.
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"We would have liked it if the entire French nation was out in the streets. Everyone in France needs to know that if something happens to the Jews, tomorrow it will happen to everybody," he said. Some 100,000 people took part in the march, police said. Other estimates put the number at more than double the police figure. Smaller marches took place in other cities, including Lyon and Bordeaux, where Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard, named a cardinal this week, took part. Police patrolled the crowd in Paris, where an array of ministers, including Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, joined the march. Opposition Socialists, including former prime minister Lionel Jospin, as well as members of other parties, were also present. They made their way from the Place de la Republique to the Place de la Nation, in eastern Paris, in a chilling cold. "Today, we must march, we must stand up, to say that in France each of us has the right to live in dignity whatever his God, his religion, the color of his skin," said Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy. With punches and boos, a crowd ejected right-wing politician Philippe de Villiers from the march. De Villiers' Movement for France blames immigration for France's social ills - like the extreme-right National Front which was banned by the organizers from the demonstration. At the end of the demonstration, hundreds of youngsters, all masked, yelled "Fofana for hanging! Revenge for Ilan!" Youssouf Fofana is the lead suspect in the kidnap-murder of Halimi. The march was called after Halimi, a 23-year-old cellphone salesman, was kidnapped last month, sequestered and tortured for three weeks in the southern Paris suburb of Bagneux. Allegedly held by a suburban gang, he was found naked, handcuffed and covered with burn marks on February 13 near railroad tracks south of Paris. Halimi died on his way to a hospital. "Ilan tortured. France wounded," read one of the banners carried by marchers. Halimi's family did not take part in the march, which was preceded by a small gathering of several hundred people in the southern suburb of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois, where Halimi was found. A maple tree was planted in his memory. It remains unclear whether anti-Semitism was the motive for the grisly killing, which may have been part of a suburban extortion racket. Sarkozy said Tuesday that Halimi's attackers were primarily motivated by greed. "But they believed, and I quote, 'that Jews have money,'" he said. "That's called anti-Semitism." He said the gang tried to kidnap six other people since December - four of them Jewish. "To know whether they acted with anti-Semitism or partly with anti-Semitism is not important. Because anti-Semitism there was," Sarkozy said Sunday. The gang, apparently operating for several years, also tried to extort money from several prominent figures, including a founder of Doctors Without Borders, Rony Brauman. Brauman, who is of Jewish origin, received a demand for money in 2004 in a letter containing a photograph of hooded armed men - taken in front of his home. Months later, Molotov cocktails exploded in his courtyard and a gunshot hit his door, he told LCI television Saturday. Brauman said he did not believe anti-Semitism was a factor in his case, telling LCI that in his view the motive was simply money. "An investigation is under way," said French Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruk. "What is certain, and important today, is that a young man was tortured for weeks in general indifference." France has Europe's largest Jewish community, as well as the largest Muslim community in Western Europe. Anti-Semitic acts, as well as acts against Muslims, increased in France starting in 2000, reflecting the rise in Israeli-Palestinian violence. After reaching a peak, such acts ebbed. The Halimi case has revived fears that anti-Semitism remains in French society. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni forwarded her condolences to the Halimi family. "We are all pained, shocked and appalled by the gravity of the act," she said. "Anti-Semitism is not only an issue of the Jewish people and the State of Israel but it is a phenomenon that impacts first of all the society in which it appears." She added that, "The citizens of France, who are going out to the streets in order to express their rejection of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia, represent the joint struggle against barbarism that unites all the cultures and religions into one family for family for the victory of morality and respect for other people." Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski also delivered a message Sunday to the Halami family. A couple of hundred of French-Israelis gathered in downtown Jerusalem to show their support and solidarity to the family of Ilan Halimi and the French Jewish community. Leon Rozenbaum, president of UNIFAN, the association of immigrants from French-speaking countries told The Jerusalem Post: "We hope French Jews will understand why many of them have made aliya." Jonathan, a 20-year-old soldier said: "It's been 60 years since we heard such stories. What happened to Ilan is the most awful thing I ever heard." Guillaume Bureau, J r mie Azencot and Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.