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French Anti-racism Bill Clears Hurdle, but is Expected to Founder in Senate

A bill providing penalties for racist and anti-Semitic propaganda passed the National Assembly by a 307-265 vote, after a stormy debate late Wednesday night.

But the watered-down version, which got by the lower house of Parliament only with support from the majority Socialist and Communist parties, is expected to founder in the Senate, where the center-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) and the neo-Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR) hold sway.

The UDF of former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing and former Prime Minister Jacques Chirac’s RPR voted against the measure in the Assembly, even after its most severe penalties were eliminated.

The punishments eliminated included mandatory prison terms for spreading racist, anti-Semitic or xenophobic propaganda and denying that the Holocaust occurred.

Also modified was a provision suspending the civic rights of persons convicted of such offenses.

Under the draft law as it now stands, prison sentences are no longer mandatory.

Unlike the bill that originally emerged from the Assembly’s Law Committee, the latest version exempts journalists, editors and publishers from the ineligibility proviso, even if found guilty of racial incitement.

If the bill is rejected by the Senate, it will be returned to the lower house for a second reading and even a third, a process that could last years, unless a compromise is reached between the opposing factions.

An added complication was the warning Tuesday by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s extreme right-wing National Front that it would resort to extra-parliamentary methods if the measure is passed in any form.

According to the latest poll, the racist National Front would command slightly more than 15 percent of the national vote if elections were held now.

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