France Begins Action Against Le Pen for Racist Incitement

The Justice Ministry announced Tuesday that legal proceedings have begun against Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme right-wing National Front.

An investigating magistrate formally charged him on March 22 with “incitement to racial hatred” and insulting a Cabinet minister.

Le Pen is expected to stand trial before the end of the year and if convicted will face a one-year prison sentence and a fine of about $55,000.

The European Parliament in Strasbourg lifted Le Pen’s immunity by a 91-18 vote in December 1989.

His National Front, which polled 15 percent of the popular vote in the first round of the French presidential elections in June 1988, campaigns against foreign workers in France, mainly Arabs from North Africa.

Although Le Pen claims he is not anti-Semitic, he has made frequent public statements denying the Holocaust occurred.

The criminal charges against him stem from his allegations in 1988 that there was an “international Jewish conspiracy” to change France’s political system and social climate.

He made that remark after being rebuked in September 1988 for a ghoulish pun on the surname of Michel Durafour, who had just been named minister of public service in the Socialist government of President Francois Mitterrand.

“Four” is a French word for oven or crematorium.

While French Jews welcomed the announcement that Le Pen will be prosecuted, leading sociologists quoted in Le Monde on Tuesday cautioned that his trial could boomerang.

His prestige could be enhanced if he is acquitted and, if convicted, he could play the role of martyr, they said.

Jews meanwhile actively protested the visit to Lyon on Monday of Le Pen’s West German counterpart, Franz Schoenhuber.

The former Waffen SS officer, who heads West Germany’s extreme right-wing Republican Party, went to Lyon at the invitation of the National Front. He was confronted by some 300 demonstrators led by Lyon Chief Rabbi Richard Wertenschlag and prevented from reaching the center of town.

Mayor Michel Noir of Lyon refused to lease a city-owned building to the National Front for a reception for Schoenhuber.

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