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France stabbed { April 7 2002 }

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Policeman stabbed during massive Jewish demo in Paris

April 07, 2002, 08:13 PM TABRIYYEH

A pro-Israeli march by tens of thousands through the streets of Paris turned ugly when a demonstrator stabbed a policeman in the stomach after scuffles broke out between rival Jewish factions.

The officer was very seriously injured, police said.

About 53,000 French Jews demonstrated in the French cpaital to show their anger at attacks on Jewish targets in France and support for Israel in the bloody conflict with the Palestinians.

However the protest was marred by violence when a policeman was stabbed by a far-right Jewish demonstrator trying to attack supporters of the Israeli peace movement Peace Now.

Reporters said a gang of young men, some in masks, wielded baseball bats and knives as they set on the peace activists who had held a separate demonstration on the march route.

Behind a banner reading "With Israel for Peace and Security. Against Terrorism and Anti-Semitism," the crowd -- estimated by police at 53,000 -- moved down the 1.5 kilometre (one mile) from the Place de la Republique to the Bastille square to a background of songs and chanting in Hebrew and French.

There was also trouble in a parallel demonstration in the southern port of Marseille, where a group of young Arabs flung missiles at the procession and chanted slogans such as "We are all kamikazes."

In Paris protesters bore pictures of victims of the Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel, and waved Israeli and French flags. Posters carried the slogan, "Yesterday New York; Today Jerusalem; Tomorrow Paris."

Among the crowds were show business personalities such as singer Patrick Bruel, television presenter Arthur and filmmaker Alexandre Arcady as well presidential candidate Alain Madelin of the rightwing Liberal Democracy party.

"An attack on a synagogue has got to be recognised as an act of terrorism. Anti-Semitism is the beginning of terrorism," said David Messas, the grand rabbi of Paris, at the head of the march.

The march -- replicated in several other French cities -- took place a day after thousands joined a pro-Palestinian march through the French capital, and as around the world crowds turned out in several cities to condemn Israel's assault on the West Bank.

Police said 8,000 people rallied in Lyon while organisers claimed 10,000 marched in Marseille, up to 5,000 in Strasbourg and about a thousand in the cities of Bordeaux, Nice and Montpellier.

The Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) -- an umbrella group -- organised the protest after last weekend's arson attacks on Jewish buildings, in which a synagogue in Marseille was destroyed and two others damaged.

Attacks on Jewish people and property have taken place daily ever since. In the latest report, a firebomb was set off in a storeroom of a Jewish school in Marseille late Sunday but was put out before any damage was done, police said.

A Jewish school in the Paris suburb of Epinay was also hit with Molotov cocktails overnight Saturday, and a 30-year-old Jewish man was hospitalised after being set upon with a wooden stick.

Presumed to be the work of members of France's four million strong Arab community, the attacks have been condemned by leaders of all religious faiths as well as by the candidates in this month's presidential elections.

However France's 700,000-strong Jewish community -- the largest in Europe -- has itself been divided over how to react, with many on the left refusing to link condemnation of the attacks in France with support for the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Several hundred left-wing Jews attended the second demonstration organised by supporters of Peace Now where Sunday's violence briefly erupted.

"We wish the big demonstration had been just against anti-Semitism. Then it would have had the support of everyone. But the CRIF wanted to mix the issues up," said David Chemla of the French Friends of Peace Now.

Many French Jews also blamed anti-Israeli feeling in France for creating a climate in which attacks by Arabs became possible.

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