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Trial opens for neo-Nazis accused of attacking graves

PARIS, March 17 (JTA) — Four French neo-Nazis went on trial this week after being accused of going on an anti-Semitic rampage in a Jewish cemetery in 1990. The four — Yannick Garnier, 27, Bertrand Nouveau, 28, Patrick Laonegro, 31, and Olivier Fimbry, 28 — are accused in the incident in the southern French town of Carpentras. A fifth suspect has since died in a car accident. They allegedly damaged 34 graves and unearthed the body of a Jewish man, simulating his sodomy with a beach umbrella. At the time, the desecration provoked outrage across France and sent hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of Paris in a protest led by President Francois Mitterrand. On Monday, Garnier told the court that he regretted his acts. “Morally, I never accepted the desecration of Carpentras,” said Garnier, whose confession last summer led to the arrests. “I had done something that was contrary to what I always believed about life and about myself.” Nouveau, who also took the stand Monday, was equally remorseful, saying that at the time he “felt hate against everyone.” “Garnier’s confession relieved me,” Nouveau said. “It was a courageous act. I’m ashamed of what I’ve done. I felt as though I was someone else then.” All the suspects had been members or sympathizers of the small Nationalist French and European Party, which investigators had described as “a very hard group, often called neo-Nazi.” The defendants face up to two years in prison. Madeleine Germon, the widow of Felix Germon, whose body was unearthed, appeared in court surrounded by friends and family. “I’ve waited seven years for this,” she said. The attack also prompted widespread castigation of National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was blamed for driving others to commit such acts with his anti-Semitic rhetoric. Le Pen said he was the victim of a witch hunt.