Defiant Livingstone refuses to apologise in 'Nazi guard' row

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After nearly a fortnight of condemnation of his remarks likening a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard "doing the job just because you are paid to", Ken Livingstone issued a blunt verdict on the row yesterday: "I have nothing to apologise for."

After nearly a fortnight of condemnation of his remarks likening a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard "doing the job just because you are paid to", Ken Livingstone issued a blunt verdict on the row yesterday: "I have nothing to apologise for."

In a 35-minute display of defiance and rhetoric, the London Mayor insisted he had not meant to offend Jews - and renewed his tirade against Associated Newspapers, owner of the Daily Mail and London Evening Standard.

Many had predicted Mr Livingstone would end the controversy, which threatened to overshadow London's bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, by expressing regret for any offence caused to the Jewish community. But the Mayor said instead he had been "deeply affected" by concerns that his comments downplayed the Holocaust.

He contrasted what he said was his own record on combating racism - then spoke about what he claimed was the Daily Mail group's role as "leading advocates of anti-Semitism in Britain for half a century".

At his weekly press conference in City Hall, Mr Livingstone intensified his conflict with Associated Newspapers by accusing its titles of peddling intolerance, first against Russian Jews a century ago and now against asylum-seekers. The Mayor said: "While it is true the Mail group no longer smears Jews as bringing crime and disease to the UK, it is only because they have moved on.

"After a decade of pandering to racism against our citizens of black and Irish origin, they have moved on and now describe asylum-seekers and Muslims in similar terms. For the Mail group, the victims may change but the intolerance, hatred and fear pervade every issue of the papers."

The accusations, which Associated Newspapers rejected as "absurd" and "irrelevant", came two weeks after a party held in honour of the Labour MP Chris Smith at which Mr Livingstone was approached by Oliver Finegold, from the Evening Standard. After finding out the reporter worked for Associated Newspapers, the Mayor likened him to a war criminal. When Mr Finegold said he was Jewish, Mr Livingstone said: "Well you might be but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard - you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?"

The remarks left Mr Livingstone under pressure to apologise.Tony Blair said he thought the Mayor should say sorry as did the Labour Deputy Mayor, Nicky Gavron, who thought an apology should be made to the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Commission for Racial Equality. The Mayor is also facing an investigation by the local authorities watchdog, Standards Board for England, which could call for his removal.

Mr Livingstone criticised the inquiry, saying the requirement of its code of conduct - that councillors "must treat others with respect" - constituted a threat to the freedom of speech.

Faced with what he called "yet another media firestorm", Mr Livingstone insisted he had widespread public support. Of the 1,500 letters and e-mails to his office, three-quarters had expressed support, the Mayor said. He added: "I have been deeply affected by the concern of Jewish people in particular that my comments downplayed the horror and magnitude of the Holocaust.

"I wish to say to those Londoners that my words were not intended to cause such offence and that my view remains the Holocaust against the Jews is the greatest racial crime of the 20th century."

When challenged that his remarks had caused offence to Jewish Holocaust survivors, Mr Livingstone said: "The form of words I have used I think are right. I have nothing to apologise for." He also said he found it odd the paper was "doorstepping" guests at Mr Smith's party.

The Standard, which denied the Mayor's claims that Mr Finegold had "repeatedly barked" a question and had, until now, chosen to comment on the row through its own pages, took the step of issuing a statement. Referring to an expected apology, the paper said: "Mr Livingstone's arrogant remarks today were no such thing ... Mr Livingstone once again attempted to divert attention from the real issue with a long tirade against the Daily Mail and Associated Newspapers."

THE MEANING OF THE MAYOR'S WORDS

"A week ago I said it was not my intention to apologise to the journalist from [the] Daily Mail group or his employers. Upon a further week of reflection ... I have decided to stand by that position. There will be no apology or expression of regret to the Daily Mail group."

After initially criticising the Evening Standard, Mr Livingstone has broadened his attack to include allAssociated Newspapers titles, in particular the Daily Mail which he accuses of waging a 24-year campaign to undermine him.

"Pursuing me along the pavement, thrusting your tape recorder at me whilst repeatedly barking the same question ... is not acceptable behaviour by you or any other journalist."

Mr Livingstone complains of harassment by Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold as he left City Hall. The newspaper says a recording shows Mr Finegold was polite and made clear he was offended by the Mayor.

"To the Daily Mail group, I say that no one is less qualified than they to complain about anti-Semitism. Their papers were not, as some have reported, guilty of a 'brief flirtation' with Adolf Hitler in the 1930s. In truth, these papers were the leading advocates of anti-Semitism in Britain for half a century."

Mr Livingstone bases his remarks on the position taken by the Daily Mail and its owner Lord Rothermere over several decades when the paper opposed the entry of Russian Jews, wrote favourably about Oswald Mosley's Black Shirts and warned Jews escaping Germany in 1940 not to arouse "the same resentment" in Britain.

"I have been deeply affected by the concern of Jewish people in particular that my comments downplayed the horror and magnitude of the Holocaust. I wish to say to those Londoners that my words were not intended to cause such offence."

He is aggrieved his comments have attracted criticism, in particular from Holocaust survivors and points to his record on battling anti-Semitism.

"Most Londoners will be surprised to discover that the person they chose to elect by a substantial majority last summer can be removed from office and banned from public life for five years."

The Mayor dismisses the investigation he faces by the Standards Board for England into whether he breached its code of conduct and calls for the organisation's abolition.

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