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French Prime Minister Protests Court Ruling for Vichy Official

French Prime Minister Pierre Beregovoy has added his voice to the growing chorus of outrage over the Paris Court of Appeal’s dismissal of all charges against accused war criminal Paul Touvier.

“France was deeply moved. France feels itself hurt and I understand the general indignation,” Beregovoy said in a speech to Parliament on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the French Parliament suspended meeting in order for members to attend a memorial service for the victims of Touvier, which was organized by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France and held at the Monument to the Deportation.

There, Laurent Fabius, the leader of the ruling Socialist Party, called Touvier “filth who committed abominable, horrific crimes.”

French newspapers and human rights groups were among the voices crying foul after the French court on Monday dropped the charges against Touvier, who was accused of crimes against humanity. Political figures across the political spectrum have called for a reversal of the court’s decision.

Beregovoy said he understood that “the attorney general has immediately appealed against this decision,” which is being challenged before the Supreme Court of Appeals.

The prime minister said, “The victims of Nazism and of its accomplices today feel themselves cheated. I want to participate in their pain.”

President Francois Mitterrand, visiting Turkey, told reporters there Tuesday that he was astonished by the court’s announcement. Surprise “is an understatement,” he said.

Touvier, 77, headed the collaborationist Vichy militia in Lyon, where he was a close associate of the late Klaus Barbie, the local Gestapo chief.

He was charged with crimes against humanity, as was Barbie in 1988, because the statute of limitations on war crimes expired.

But before his trial could begin, the Paris Appeals Court announced it was dropping the charges for “lack of evidence” that Touvier’s acts were crimes against humanity committed within an organized framework of intent to persecute or try to eradicate a people.

The widely denounced decision was seen by many as confirmation that the French judiciary is reluctant to condemn French citizens for war crimes against Jews, though it has been willing to condemn Germans for such acts.

Moreover, suspicion persists that the highest government ranks, including Mitterrand, oppose trials of former Vichy officials on grounds they could reopen old wounds and endanger civil peace.

Beregovoy may have been addressing such perceptions when he told Parliament that “criminals must be punished whatever their citizenship. We owe this to the memory of our own history. The painful pages of our national life cannot and will not be erased. One will not rehabilitate the Vichy regime.”

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