Jewish cemetery attack linked to right

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The Independent Online
The desecration of the Jewish cemetery at Carpentras, an event that scarred the national psyche and did untold damage to France's image abroad, may be close to resolution after an investigation lasting more than six years.

The news that four men had been arrested, that two had confessed and that all four were believed to have links with a far-right movement, was greeted across France yesterday with a collective sigh of relief.

Jean-Claude Andrieux, the mayor of Carpentras - a rundown town set in glorious Provencal countryside - hoped it would now be able to "recover its honour". He has seen the town, whose Jewish community dates from when the Popes of Avignon accorded Jews special protection, become a pariah. Investment has passed it by, as though outsiders feared its malign associations. All development, repairs and business give the impression of having been frozen for six years.

On 10 May 1990, France awoke to reports that one of the country's oldest Jewish cemeteries had been despoiled. More than 30 tombstones had been smashed. The body of 81-year-old Felix Germon, buried two weeks before, had been exhumed, impaled on an umbrella, and left with a star of David on his stomach.

The immediate suspects were local members of the National Front, which is strong in South-eastern France. In Carpentras, with its established Jewish population, a noticeable number of north African immigrants and an economy not benefiting from the fashion for all things Provencal, the National Front had a distinct following.

The public outcry was such that the Socialist interior minister, Pierre Joxe, flew down to the scene and delivered an impassioned condemnation of racism and anti-semitism. He named the National Front leader, Jean- Marie Le Pen, as - at least indirectly - responsible for what had happened.

Mr Le Pen, who came to deny his members' involvement, said the National Front was being "framed" one month before parliamentary elections.

Three days after the desecration 200,000 people, led by President Mitterrand, filed through Paris in an act of national contrition. It was the largest street demonstration the capital had seen since the student protests of 1968.

The investigation, however, seemed to run quickly into the sand. Two groups of skinheads and a group of local girls were detained for questioning and released. A year ago, the newly appointed head of the local judiciary appeared to accept testimony from a girl who said adolescents from well- connected and "untouchable" local families were responsible.

Last October, keen to capitalise on their apparent absolution, 10,000 National Front members converged on Carpentras to insist they had been unjustly vilified. But the new theory still found no culprits. In April, the investigating judge, Sylvie Mottes, who had been in charge from the outset, was replaced and the case was transferred to Marseille.

Now the theory of far-right involvement has been resurrected, four skinheads in their mid-20s are under arrest, and a fifth man, an army officer in Alsace, is being questioned.

Mainstream politicians are delighted that the far right is back in the dock as the campaign for next year's parliamentary elections gathers pace. The National Front is furious.

Its spokesman described the latest developments as "fantastic in the extreme", and denied that the skinheads' group, the French and European Nationalist Party, was anything to do with them. "You can't exclude manipulation by the secret services or the complicity of local figures," he said.