English News Archive

News between March 7th, and February 24st, reversely ordered by date (i.e.: the newest can be found on top). For recent news select English News.


Headlines


Iran cleric wants book doubting Holocaust spread
05:40 p.m Mar 06, 1998 Eastern

TEHRAN, March 6 (Reuters) - A senior Iranian cleric called on Friday for a book by a convicted French author questioning the Holocaust to be widely distributed in Moslem countries.

``I recommend that this book be translated and distributed in all Islamic countries, including Iran,'' Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in a Friday prayer sermon broadcast on Tehran radio.

He was referring to the book ``The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics'' by French Moslem author Roger Garaudy which disputes the numbers of Jews killed in the Holocaust and questions the existence of gas chambers in Nazi death camps.

A Paris court fined Garaudy 120,000 francs ($20,000) under a 1991 French law that prohibits the questioning of World War Two crimes against humanity as defined at the Nuremberg trial.

Garaudy, an 84-year old Moslem convert, wrote in his book that ``the myth of the extermination of six million Jews'' had become a pretext for justifying Israel's repression of Palestinians.

The book has attracted attention in the Middle East with numerous newspaper editorials discussing the issues raised by the author and a prominent display of the book at the government-backed Cairo International Book Fair.

``Normally the Jews will buy up all copies of the book and it will be a great market for traders -- printing books and the Jews constantly buying them up -- but a few copies will reach other people,'' said Jannati, a hard-line member of Iran's powerful Guardian Council.

``Even in non-Islamic countries where there are people who know about the injustices committed by Israel...people should translate it into their own language. This will be a great service to the oppressed Moslems of Palestine,'' Jannati told thousands of worshippers gathered at Tehran University.

Iran says Israel has no right to exist. Tehran has strongly condemned the Middle East peace process as sell-out of Palestinian and Islamic rights.

Israel sees Iran as the chief threat to its security, expressing concerns over what it said were Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

Iran has not given details of its missile programme, but insists that its arms programme is purely defensive. REUTERS

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Vienna strikes deal on disputed Holocaust memorial
12:32 p.m. Mar 03, 1998 Eastern

By Julia Ferguson

VIENNA, March 3 (Reuters) - A controversial memorial to Viennese Jews killed in the Holocaust, delayed for two years by political infighting, will be built in the heart of the capital after all, the city's mayor said on Tuesday.

The memorial will be shifted slightly from its intended site in the narrow baroque Judenplatz or Jews' Square in order to make room for the excavation of an ancient synagogue.

The brainchild of veteran Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and designed by British sculptor Rachel Whiteread, it should have been unveiled two years ago on November 9 -- the anniversary of the 1938 ``Kristallnacht'' (Night of Broken Glass) pogroms.

But construction of ``The Nameless Library,'' a

226 sq metre (2,432 sq foot) white concrete cast of a library turned in on itself, was halted when workers uncovered ruins of a medieval synagogue.

Leaders of Vienna's Jewish community -- backed by locals who said the memorial would be an eyesore in the picturesque square -- protested that the sculpture was redundant as the remains of the synagogue were eloquent enough.

The city of Vienna, which is funding the construction, and the British sculptor have now struck a compromise with the city's Jewish leaders to shift the memorial slightly to the south of the square so that it does not sit directly on top of the synagogue's sacred central room.

``It is a historic occasion that we can now build this memorial so that it is compatible with the excavation of the Jewish synagogue,'' Vienna mayor Michael Haeupl told reporters.

Parts of the ``Or Sarua'' synagogue will be turned into a museum chronicling the persecution of Jews in Vienna. In 1421, a hundred Jews committed suicide inside the synagogue to escape forced conversions by the Catholic state.

Austria, annexed by Germany in 1938, has often drawn criticism for its apparent reluctance to take responsibility for the crimes of World War Two.

A Vienna monument against fascism and war sparked bitter resistance and was only finished three years behind schedule in 1991.

Whiteread's Holocaust memorial, which has been stored in a workshop outside the capital, is the first in Vienna to be dedicated solely to Jewish victims of the war.

A jury selected the Briton's design in 1996 because it symbolised Judaism's survival of persecution through books and writing.

Peter Marboe, Vienna's culture minister, said he was glad the memorial would finally see the light of day.

``The memorial seeks to convey the message of 'Never again'. We're convinced it transports this message and that of solidarity of the majority with minorities,'' Marboe said. REUTERS

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Turkish PM says Germany seeks ``Lebensraum'' via EU
08:57 p.m Mar 06, 1998 Eastern

LONDON, March 6 (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz has compared the German approach to European Union expansion with Adolf Hitler's ``Lebensraum'' drive for German settlement of eastern Europe, the Financial Times said on Friday.

Yilmaz, in comments that highlighted Turkish bitterness over its exclusion from a list of countries earmarked for entry to the 15-nation grouping, accused the EU of discriminating against Ankara. He blamed the German government in particular for Turkey's omission.

``The Germans continue the same strategy as before. They believe in Lebensraum,'' Yilmaz said, according to the newspaper.

``That means the central and eastern European countries are of strategic importance for Europe and for Germany as their backyard,'' he said.

Germany denied the accusation and while it would not be drawn on what impact such a statment might have on German-Turkish relations, its anger was evident.

``If these statements are true then it is an inexcusable defamation of German policies,'' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Erdmann in Bonn.

Government spokesman Peter Hausmann told reporters that Yilmaz's statements were in contrast to decades of ``friendly relations'' between Bonn and Ankara.

``We formally reject these statements,'' he said.

The Financial Times had predicted that Yilmaz's charges would provoke fury in Bonn because of the connotations of the word ``Lebensraum'' -- Adolf Hitler's policy of aggressive expansion eastwards to create ``living space'' for the German people.

``Their final goal is to include these countries in NATO and the EU, and to divide Europe between Bulgaria and Turkey,'' Yilmaz said. ``Turkey should be a good neighbour for Europe, but not a member of the EU.''

The newspaper said the interview revealed the depth of Turkey's bitterness and disillusion at the EU decision in Luxembourg last December to leave Turkey off the enlargement list.

Yilmaz said the Luxembourg decision had ``undermined'' efforts to reach a settlement on the island of Cyprus, which has been divided into the Greek Cypriot-controlled south and the Turkish-controlled north since 1974.

The EU's Luxembourg summit invited the Greek-controlled, internationally recognised state of Cyprus to the EU expansion process, along with several eastern European nations. But EU officials have said they also wants the Turkish Cypriots to have a say in the accession talks.

``The EU has committed a very grave mistake,'' Yilmaz told the Financial Times. ``It is impossible to bring the Turkish Cypriots to the membership negotiations unless there is a major change in EU policy.

``Nobody should expect any improvements unless the EU recognises the existence of two separate, distinct entities on Cyprus.''

Yilmaz also rejected last-minute efforts to persuade him to attend next week's European Conference of prospective members of the EU in London, the Financial Times said. ``That is out of the question,'' he said.

``If we attend the European conference, it would mean accepting the discrimination against us,'' Yilmaz said.

The newspaper said the British government, as current president of the EU, has been trying to persuade Turkey to attend the conference, which will be attended by all the EU members plus 11 candidates including Cyprus. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Soccer-Stalemate in all four European Cup quarter-finals
12:31 a.m. Mar 05, 1998 Eastern

LONDON, March 4 (Reuters) - All four European Cup quarter-finals finished as draws on Wednesday leaving Real Madrid, Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Dynamo Kiev the slight favourites to reach the semifinals in two weeks time.

Madrid drew 1-1 at Bayer Leverkusen, Dynamo Kiev held Juventus to the same score in Turin, while holders Borussia drew 0-0 in their all-German tie at Bayern Munich where they won the European Cup last season, and Manchester United forced the same score in a dire goalless draw at Monaco.

Stefan Beinlich of Bayer Leverkusen scored the first goal of what proved to be a night short on goals, after 18 minutes against Madrid who equalised through Christian Karembeu 16 minutes from time.

The only other goals of the night came in Turin where Andriy Gusin scored for Dynamo Kiev after 57 minutes and Filippo Inzaghi equalised 14 minutes from the end.

Off the field German police detained 150 Spanish soccer fans in Cologne for shouting right-wing slogans and making Nazi gestures after they arrived in Germany for Wednesday's match.

A police spokesman said the fans had begun giving the raised-arm Hitler salute and yelling as soon as they stepped off their plane at Cologne airport.

``Our Spanish colleagues had already warned us about these fans,'' the spokesman said.

Police kept the fans in custody until after the match and then put them on their plane home.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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WJC's Bronfman hopeful of Swiss banks settlement
12:01 a.m. Mar 04, 1998 Eastern

By Robert Melnbardis

MONTREAL, March 3 (Reuters) - Swiss authorities may be getting closer to agreeing to a lump sum settlement of all claims stemming from the dispute over Nazi gold and Holocaust victims' dormant bank accounts, World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman said on Tuesday.

``I am very optimistic,'' Bronfman told Reuters in a telephone interview on Tuesday from his New York office.

Bronfman said he was hopeful that a settlement could be reached in ``maybe a month or so.'' Bronfman declined to provide details, but said he was encouraged by ``conversations that my people have had with their people.''

Bronfman said the settlement amount being discussed was was ``less than 10, more than one'' billion U.S. dollars.

The WJC proposed such a settlement so that aging Holocaust survivors could be compensated quickly for their losses suffered during the Second World War.

A settlement would resolve a bitter dispute between Jewish groups and Swiss banks over funds in Holocaust victims' bank accounts that remained dormant and unaccounted for since the war.

It also would help close out a controversial chapter on Switzerland's role in making gold purchases and trading with Nazi Germany during the war when as a neutral country it was surrounded by Axis powers.

Bronfman said the settlement was important to compensate Holocaust survivors as soon as possible.

Bronfman has been a major proponent of the campaign to seek compensation from Swiss banks, a role that has sparked criticism from certain Jewish leaders and fears among others of a backlash against Jews.

But Bronfman expressed no regrets for his determined campaign, saying it was a way of uncovering the truth about the wartime role of Swiss financial institutions and the plight of Holocaust victims who transferred life savings to the banks.

``That fact is that they profited enormously and I'm not asking for it all, just a percentage of it,'' he said.

In the interview, Bronfman praised Hillary Rodham Clinton for her efforts in getting the Clinton administration's ``full support'' of his plan to obtain restitution from the Swiss.

Bronfman recounted how he broached the issue to the first lady during a campaign fund-raising reception at his New York apartment in April 1996.

She subsequently spoke to U.S. President Bill Clinton about how the administration could help Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, chairman of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, who was beginning hearings on the issue, put pressure on the Swiss to declassify their wartime bank records.

``If it wasn't for Mrs. Clinton, I don't think it ever would have gotten to the president that day, and the whole thing would have been different,'' Bronfman said.

``She pestered the president to see me that next day, and he did,'' he said. ^[email protected]

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Arab reporters said beaten outside French court
10:50 a.m. Feb 28, 1998 Eastern

PARIS, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Two Arab reporters have complained to the French foreign ministry that they were attacked by suspected Zionist militants at the trial of French writer Roger Garaudy, a ministry spokesman said on Saturday.

Abdallah Hassan, who works for the Egyptian news agency MENA, and Sayyed Hamdi, working for Saudi television, said they were beaten on Friday by two unidentified assailants close to the Paris law courts.

They said the attack occurred shortly after Garaudy, 84, was fined 120,000 francs ($20,000) for questioning the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews in his book ``The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics.''

An Iranian reporter said he and his cameraman were also set upon by a crowd of youths following the verdict, although the foreign ministry said it had not yet received a complaint about this attack.

Foreign ministry spokesman Yves Doutriaux said he ``regretted'' the incidents and wished the injured reporters ``a swift recovery.'' He added that police were carrying out an investigation.

French television reported that a militant Jewish youth organisation, Betar-Tagar, had released a statement indicating that it had taken part in the violence.

``After anti-Semitic and revisionist remarks had been uttered by Garaudy's sympathisers, the (Holocaust) deniers were punished,'' it quoted the statement as saying.

Garaudy, a convert to Islam who has become a hero for many Arab intellectuals, argued in his book that Hitler's extermination of Jews amounted to pogroms or massacres and that calling them genocide was an exaggeration.

He also wrote that ``the myth of the extermination of six million Jews'' had become a dogma justifying Israel's repression of Palestinians, and he alleged that western media were 95 percent controlled by Zionists.

A few dozen activists shouted ``Garaudy Nazi'' and ``Garaudy to prison'' outside the courtroom on Friday and television showed scuffles in the building as police tried to push them away from the court entrance.

``We were reporting the sentencing of Garaudy yesterday when we were attacked by a pro-Zionist group,'' the Iranian reporter, named as Mansuri, told French television. ``A group of about 10 to 15 youths attacked me and the cameraman. They tried to prevent us reporting the trial by pulling down the microphone and camera,'' he added. REUTERS

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France starts new quest for Jews' stolen bank funds
06:14 p.m Mar 06, 1998 Eastern

By Irwin Arieff

PARIS, March 6 (Reuters) - French officials launched a drive on Friday to track down money in the French banking system that may have been seized from Jews during World War Two.

Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Bank of France Governor Jean-Claude Trichet told a news conference a special state committee had been formally installed in the central bank's headquarters to oversee an inventory of all suspect accounts.

The actual work of sifting through the archives will be performed by employees of the individual banks.

In a move certain to anger French Jewish groups, Strauss-Kahn repeatedly stressed that the state would set no deadline for the completion of their task.

Despite the banking system's reputation for secrecy in this sensitive area, Strauss-Kahn said he was confident the job would be completed.

``Today, the government has decided to set out in this direction, and the work will be done,'' he said.

``It will be a long and difficult task (but) I am not at all worried about their (the banks') willingness to cooperate (with the state),'' he said.

The new committee created to watch over the banks' work will be headed by Jean Saint-Geours, former head of the French Stock Exchange's watchdog agency.

The committee will report to an official state commission led by concentration camp survivor Jean Matteoli, which is attempting to systematically track down and make an inventory of goods of all types seized from French Jews during the Nazi occupation years.

The overall task includes separate initiatives to identify property, art works, insurance policies and other assets that France has said it ultimately hopes to return to Holocaust survivors or their families.

The Matteoli Commission has estimated it will take several years to review the thousands of boxes and tens of thousands of dossiers on Jewish assets gathering dust in French archives.

But the commission, set up early last year to clarify the status of property never returned to its rightful owners, said France did not have to wait until the inquiry was over to start indemnifying survivors.

Two Jewish women who survived the Holocaust in France filed suit in a New York court in December against nine French banks to force them to account for Jewish assets they administered.

The banks named in the suit are Credit Lyonnais, Societe Generale, Banque Paribas, Banque National De Paris, Credit Commercial de France, Caisse Nationale De Credit Agricole, Banque Francaise du Commerce Exterieur, Worms et Cie and Barclays Plc, a British-based bank that operated offices in France.

During the Nazi occupation some 76,000 of the 320,000 Jews then living in France were sent to concentration camps, including 11,000 children. Only about 2,800 of those deported survived.

In response to a reporter's question, Strauss-Kahn said the special commission would have access to secret state reports on earlier French attempts to track down and return money seized from Jews during the Nazi occupation years.

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FOCUS-French writer fined for questioning Holocaust
05:06 p.m Feb 27, 1998 Eastern

By Thierry Leveque

PARIS, Feb 27 (Reuters) - A Paris court on Friday fined French philosopher Roger Garaudy 120,000 francs ($20,000) for questioning the Nazi Holocaust of Jews in his book ``The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics.''

Garaudy, an 84-year-old convert to Islam who has become a hero for many Arab intellectuals, was fined 80,000 francs ($13,340) on a charge of denying crimes against humanity.

He was fined another 40,000 francs ($6,660) on a charge of racist defamation for accusing a Jewish lobby of controlling western media.

A few dozen activists shouted ``Garaudy Nazi'' and ``Garaudy to prison'' outside the courtroom, insulting Arab journalists flocking to cover the verdict.

Garaudy had argued at his trial last month that he was only calling for a historical and scientific review of Nazi crimes. But chief judge Jen-Yves Montfort said the 1995 book ``outspokenly and systematically disputed'' the Holocaust.

The court cleared Garaudy of a charge of inciting racial hatred. His publisher Pierre Guillaume, head of the Vieille Taupe publishing house, was cleared of all charges.

The CRIF umbrella group for French Jewish institutions said it ``noted'' the sentence against Garaudy but added it could not understand why the publisher had been cleared.

The charges carried a maximum one year in prison and 300,000-franc ($50,000) fine under a 1991 French law punishing the questioning of World War Two crimes against humanity as defined at the Nuremberg trial.

The state prosecutor had called for a six-month suspended sentence with a 150,000-franc ($25,000) fine.

Anti-racism groups had taken Garaudy to court for arguing that Hitler's extermination of Jews amounted to pogroms or massacres and that calling them genocide was an exaggeration.

He wrote in his book that ``the myth of the extermination of six million Jews'' had become a dogma justifying Israel's repression of Palestinians. He has also disputed the numbers of Jews killed by Hitler and questioned the existence of gas chambers in death camps.

Garaudy, who was not in court when the verdict was read out, has denied any wrongdoing.

Garaudy converted to Roman Catholicism after he was sacked as a dissident from the French Communist Party leadership. He later converted to Islam and set up, in a mediaeval Arab tower in the southern Spanish town of Cordoba, a foundation which works to restore links between the west and the Middle East.

His book, and his charges that western media were 95 percent controlled by Zionists, have made him a hero for for many Arab and Moslem intellectuals.

His book was prominently displayed at Cairo's government-run International Book Fair this month.

However, some critics saw overwhelming Arab sympathy for Garaudy as an embarrassment, and others lashed out at Arab human rights activists for campaigning in favour of Garaudy while failing to condemn rights violations on their own turf.

The CRIF said Garaudy's book had ``an anti-semitic bias'' and support from Arab intellectuals and officials in Iran and Syria was ``a serious step backwards for Israel and the Jewish people.''

``The CRIF bitterely regrets the silence of enlightened Moslem leaders and intellectuals,'' it said.

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Papon sees conspiracy in French war crimes trial
09:02 p.m Mar 05, 1998 Eastern

By Claude Canellas

BORDEAUX, France, March 5 (Reuters) - Accused Nazi collaborator Maurice Papon said on Thursday on the last day of testimony in his lengthy war crimes trial that his accusers had conspired to defame France and its civil service.

In an agitated voice, Papon, 87, alleged that the state prosecutor had earlier protected a senior Vichy official, adding that the charges against him were flawed and ``read like a bad novel.''

Papon's lawyer, Jean-Marc Varaut, also announced that he had filed charges against Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld, father of civil plaintiff lawyer Arno Klarsfeld, accusing him of trying to pressure jurors with his statements about the trial.

``The evidence is missing, but that doesn't make any difference because they want to condemn the civil service, even condemn France itself,'' Papon, who had a successful political career after the Second World War, protested.

``This is more than partiality, it is participating in a conspiracy,'' he said.

Prosecutor Marc Robert, who in 1991 advised against trying the late Vichy police chief and prominent collaborator Rene Bousquet, said Papon was trying to politicise the proceedings because he had run out of arguments in his own defence.

Bousquet was shot dead by a publicity-hungry failed writer before he could be brought to trial.

``I recall a press statement in which the accused charged there was both a political conspiracy and an international Jewish conspiracy against him,'' Robert added.

The six-month trial, in which Papon is accused of deporting 1,560 Jews to death camps, will hear final arguments from the defence and prosecution next week. The verdict is expected at the end of the month.

Billed as France's confrontation with its collaborationist past, the proceedings have been bogged down in confused debate about Papon's work as a senior bureaucrat in the Bordeaux region in 1942-1944 and conflicting testimony on whether or not he helped the anti-Nazi resistance.

Papon says he is innocent and actually saved Jews when he could, but the civil plaintiffs -- mostly relatives of Bordeaux Jews killed in the Holocaust -- say he is a criminal.

During his testimony, Papon went through the thick book of charge material against him, denying several points.

He denounced the charge that he had to know at the time that deported Jews were being sent to death camps.

``That's pure fabrication,'' he said, adding it was ``grotesque'' to say he must have read Hitler's Mein Kampf and learned from it about the Nazi ``Final Solution'' to kill all of Europe's Jews.

``It uses arguments after the fact, like the Nuremberg Trial,'' he said. ``This twists the facts, it is bad faith.''

Papon's lawyer accused Serge Klarsfeld of trying to pressure jurors by giving numerous interviews during the trial and accusing presiding judge Jean-Louis Castagnede of bias because he had a distant family link to Jews deported to death camps.

``This pressure...is incompatible with the conditions for a fair trial as set out in article six of the European Human Rights Convention,'' he said.

Arno Klarsfeld replied that Varaut's charges were in themselves a bid to influence the jury.

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FOCUS-Nazi war crimes suspect arrested in Germany
04:59 p.m Mar 04, 1998 Eastern

By Clifford Coonan

STUTTGART, Germany, March 4 (Reuters) - A 78-year-old suspected Nazi war criminal has been arrested for his role in massacres of over 70,000 people in Ukraine and Poland more than 50 years ago, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

The unnamed German citizen was arrested in his apartment in the southern city of Stuttgart on Tuesday. Prosecutors declined to name him but said he had moved to Germany from Kazakhstan in 1991 and had also lived in Russia.

State prosecutor Sabine Maylaender said he had been in the Gestapo secret police in the Polish city of Lublin and was suspected of taking part in mass killings of mostly Jews in Lublin and the Ukrainian city of Lvov between 1942 and 1943.

The man admitted he had personally shot dead 500 people, including women and children, during a two-day operation in November, 1943, at Majdanek concentration camp in Poland dubbed ``Operation Harvest Festival,'' she said.

``We are not making public the name in order to protect the family, but he was not a major figure, such as a camp commandant,'' Maylaender told Reuters.

Willi Dresen, the head of a Nazi war crimes investigation unit in Ludwigsburg, said the man's name had cropped up in 1959 and 1966 in their files and that he was an ethnic German who was born in the Ukraine and settled in Kazakhstan after the war.

Dresen declined to confirm German media reports the man's name was Alfons Goetzfried.

Many thousands of ethnic Germans moved from Eastern Europe to Germany following the collapse of communism. The ethnic Germans were given preferential treatment in immigrating and obtaining German citizenship.

Maylaender said the man had made self-incriminating statements in the course of giving testimony to Nazi crimes investigators in the northern state of North Rhine-Westphalia last July.

``It came to light from previous statements he gave as a witness in other trials and investigations in which he said himself that he took part in an incident in Majdanek concentration camp,'' Maylaender said.

Prosecutors in Stuttgart issued a statement saying they had been working together with the state crime office in Baden-Wuerttemberg on the investigation since the middle of last year.

``We don't know how long it will take to prepare a formal prosecution,'' Maylaender said. ``Archive material has to be examined and we have to see if we can find other witnesses. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Germany's bugging bill passes final hurdle
06:38 p.m Mar 06, 1998 Eastern

BONN, March 6 (Reuters) - Germany passed a controversial bill on Friday granting to police surveillance powers that had been banned since the end of the Nazi era.

Germany's Bundesrat upper house of parliament voted in favour of the bill which formally becomes law once it has been signed by German President Roman Herzog.

The vote came a day after the Bundestag lower house voted in favour of amendments to the bill, proposed by opposition parties, exempting journalists, lawyers, physicians and accountants from bugging.

The government's draft law had only exempted priests, members of parliament and defence lawyers from surveillance.

It was the first time Chancellor Helmut Kohl's centre-right coalition government had suffered a defeat on a vote over legislation in the lower house of parliament since he came to power in 1982.

Several members of his junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), broke ranks and joined the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) to push through the opposition's amendments.

The Bundesrat, which represents Germany's 16 regional states, is dominated by the SPD.

The defeat over the legislation could not have come at a worse time for Kohl, whose Christian Democrats (CDU) suffered a crushing blow in a state election on Sunday in Lower Saxony.

Kohl's CDU is trailing the SPD badly in the polls and he now has an uphill struggle, commentators say, to beat SPD challenger Gerhard Schroeder in September's general election.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Police commandos combat neo-Nazism in east Germany
05:04 p.m Feb 24, 1998 Eastern

BERLIN, Feb 24 (Reuters) - A new police campaign using high-speed squads to combat and infiltrate far-right gangs in eastern Germany is proving highly successful, officials said on Tuesday.

Police commando units detained 23 people for possession of banned symbols or music recordings in their first week of operation, said police officials in the state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin.

Brandenburg police launched the MEGA squad -- short for Mobile Troops against Violence and Xenophobia -- in response to a wave of attacks on foreigners and other targets by neo-Nazi thugs.

``This commando strategy appears to be working,'' Axel Luedders, head of the Brandenburg state criminal investigations office, told a news briefing. ``I believe the numbers of detentions and arrests we have seen will continue to grow.''

Equipped with police-issue handguns, high-speed patrol cars and helicopters, the 45-officer MEGA squad's mission is to respond within minutes to emergency calls. Its logo is a red eagle -- Brandenburg's state emblem -- crushing a swastika.

MEGA questioned some 300 people in its first week, Luedders said.

Brandenburg set up a task force to combat far-right gang violence in 1994 but closed the operation down when criminal activity by political extremists began to decline.

The neighbouring east German states of Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Saxony have all created similar mobile squads in past months to fight far-right crime. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Kohl suffers setback in parliament over bugging law
08:28 p.m Mar 05, 1998 Eastern

By Erik Kirschbaum

BONN, March 5 (Reuters) - German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, badly beaten in a state election this week, suffered a rare setback in parliament on Thursday when party discipline in his centre-right coalition collapsed.

At least seven members of his junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), broke ranks and joined the opposition to push through amendments to a law giving police surveillance powers that had been banned since the end of the Nazi era.

For only the second time in four years, the coalition's narrow 12-seat majority in the 672-member parliament failed to defeat the challenge from opposition parties to amend the law.

``A good law has been weakened,'' said Interior Minister Manfred Kanther. The defeat followed a crushing blow to Kohl's Christian Democrats (CDU) in a state election on Sunday in Lower Saxony.

Though it was more bad news at an inopportune time for Kohl, who is badly trailing the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) in opinion polls ahead of September's election, it was unlikely the one-off defections from the FDP would prompt a wider rebellion.

``I don't see the problem here that our political opponents are trying to make out of this,'' said Michael Glos, parliamentary leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU's Bavarian sister party.

But Peter Struck, a parliamentary leader for the SPD, said the defeat showed Kohl was wounded.

``This was more than anything else the second major defeat for Kohl in less than a week,'' Struck said. ``Kohl's government is nearing its end, the coalition is falling apart.''

Led by former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the FDP deputies defected to vote with the SPD, the Greens and reform communist Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS).

They forced changes to a constitutional amendment that gives police extensive eavesdropping powers withheld since the war in reaction to the arbitrary rule of Hitler's secret police, the Gestapo.

Kohl's CDU, the CSU, and most of the FDP voted against the measures watering down the bill. FDP members who broke ranks came under massive pressure to stick with the coalition.

``It is not good news, but this won't destroy the coalition,'' said FDP chairman Wolfgang Gerhard. ``It's not going to break us apart. This was not a central political issue.''

Parliament voted 329 to 322 to push through a mediation committee's suggestions to extend exemptions from bugging to include journalists, lawyers, physicians and accountants. Originally, the law exempted members of parliament and priests.

The measure allows police, once they have obtained approval from a judge, to eavesdrop over an extended period on private homes using sophisticated surveillance devices such as directional microphones linked to transmitters.

Electronic surveillance has only been allowed in Germany if there is an overwhelming suspicion that a crime is on the verge of being committed.

The decision followed weeks of soul-searching by lawmakers, keen to fight organised crime but wary of the legacy of both Hitler's Gestapo and communist East Germany's Stasi.

The spectre of the Gestapo prompted West Germany's founding fathers to build strong human rights guarantees into the Basic Law, which became the constitution of united Germany.

The only other time the coalition has been defeated since the current legislation period began was in November 1995, when dozens of FDP and CDU deputies voted with the opposition to exclude Iran's Foreign Minister at the time, Ali Akbar Velayati, from a conference in Germany after Tehran had praised the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Kohl honours priest from Nazi-occupied France
08:19 a.m. Mar 01, 1998 Eastern

PARIS, March 1 (Reuters) - German Chancellor Helmut Kohl paid a private visit to the French city of Chartres on Sunday to honour a German Roman Catholic priest who assisted people sentenced to death in Nazi-occupied France.

Kohl, who travelled to France on the day of a key state election in Germany, attended a memorial service in Chartres cathedral and laid a wreath on the grave of the priest, Franz Stock, in a nearby churchyard.

French President Jacques Chirac, who did not join Kohl for the service, said in a letter to the chancellor marking the 50th anniversary of Stock's death that Franco-German understanding was vital for Europe.

``More than ever our two countries have need for one another. More than ever Europe, its peace and development need Franco-German friendship and understanding,'' Chirac said.

``On this day when we commemorate the memory of father Stock, who from the 1920s pressed for reconciliation between the French and the Germans, you wanted to make a gesture in his honour by coming to Chartres and I must say how much that touches me,'' Chirac wrote.

Father Stock headed the German Catholic mission in Paris until World War Two broke out in 1939.

He returned as German troops occupied France the following year and as chaplain of the Fresnes and Cherche-Midi prisons, he offered spiritual help to hundreds of people sentenced to death by Nazi authorities.

When the war ended, he volunteered to assist German war prisoners in a camp near Chartres until they were sent home in 1947. He died in 1948. His remains were buried with those of German war prisoners and later transferred to Chartres, 80 km (50 miles) west of Paris.

``He laid out signs of hope even in Europe's darkest hours,'' Kohl wrote last week in Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine and France's Le Monde dailies.

Chirac also hailed Stock as a pioneer of European unity.

``He was among the first to understand that reconciliation was a question of spirit. It is a daily process. It is not stopped by historical setbacks but learns lessons from them and overcomes them,'' Chirac wrote.

Kohl's trip coincided with an election in Germany's Lower Saxony state, where a possible challenger to the chancellor in national elections due in September, Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder, was standing for reelection as the state premier.

((Paris newsroom, +33 1 4221 5339, fax +33 1 4236 1072, paris.newsroom+reuters.com)) REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Bonn rejects Turkish statement on ``Lebensraum''
06:03 p.m Mar 06, 1998 Eastern

By William Boston

BONN, March 6 (Reuters) - Germany on Friday rejected statements by Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz comparing Bonn's approach to European Union expansion with Adolf Hitler's ``Lebensraum'' plans for German settlement of eastern Europe.

``If these statements are true then it is an inexcusable defamation of German policies,'' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Erdmann at a news conference.

Yilmaz, in comments revealing Turkey's bitterness over being excluded from a list of countries earmarked for entry to the EU, accused the 15-nation bloc of discriminating against Ankara and placed particular blame on the German government.

``The Germans continue the same strategy as before. They believe in Lebensraum,'' Yilmaz said in an interview in the Financial Times newspaper published on Friday.

``That means the central and eastern European countries are of strategic importance for Europe and for Germany as their backyard,'' he was quoted as saying.

Erdmann was reluctant to predict how Yilmaz's statements could affect German-Turkish relations.

``The German government does not want to add fuel to the fire,'' he said.

Government spokesman Peter Hausmann told reporters that Yilmaz's statements were in contrast to the ``friendly relations'' over decades between Bonn and Ankara.

``We formally reject these statements,'' he said.

Lebensraum was the term that Hitler used to describe a policy of aggressive expansion eastwards to create what he called ``living space'' for the German people.

Yilmaz said the final goal was to include eastern European countries in NATO and the EU and to ``divide Europe between Bulgaria and Turkey. Turkey should be a good neighbour for Europe, but not a member of the EU.''

The newspaper said the interview revealed the depth of Turkey's bitterness and disillusion at the EU decision last December to leave Turkey off the enlargement list.

Yilmaz said the Luxembourg decision had ``undermined'' efforts to reach a settlement on the island of Cyprus, which has been divided into the Greek Cypriot-controlled south and the Turkish-controlled north since 1974.

The EU's Luxembourg summit invited the Greek-controlled, internationally recognised state of Cyprus to the EU expansion process, along with several eastern European nations. But EU officials have said they also want the Turkish Cypriots to have a say in the accession talks.

``The EU has committed a very grave mistake,'' Yilmaz told the Financial Times. ``It is impossible to bring the Turkish Cypriots to the membership negotiations unless there is a major change in EU policy.

``Nobody should expect any improvements unless the EU recognises the existence of two separate, distinct entities on Cyprus.''

Yilmaz also rejected last-minute efforts to persuade him to attend next week's European Conference of prospective members of the EU in London, the Financial Times said.

It said the British government, as current president of the EU, has been trying to persuade Turkey to attend the conference, which will be attended by all the EU members plus 11 candidates including Cyprus. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Vandals damage Berlin memorial to murdered Jews
03:28 p.m Mar 02, 1998 Eastern

BERLIN, March 2 (Reuters) - Vandals in Berlin damaged a memorial to Jews murdered during the Nazi era when they tried to rip a Star of David ornament from it, police said on Monday.

They said the attack, the second within four months on the same memorial in central Berlin, happened on Friday night, only a week after the memorial had been re-erected.

Flowers that had been left there the same day by Holocaust survivors had been trampled and strewn over nearby streets, police said. REUTERS

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German president congratulates Israel's Weizman
05:42 p.m Mar 04, 1998 Eastern

BONN, March 4 (Reuters) - German President Roman Herzog sent a telegram on Wednesday congratulating Israel's President Ezer Weizman on his reelection on Wednesday.

``Dear Mr President and my good friend,'' Herzog wrote. ``In the name of the German people I wish you my heartfelt congratulations.

``Your first term was marked by the efforts of you and your land to achieve a lasting and fair peace...I hope for you and your nation that the next years will bring peace and security to the entire region.''

Herzog said that Germans were especially pleased that Weizman had worked to expand the ties between Germany and Israel in his first term and said he looked forward to further cooperation. Both leaders have largely ceremonial posts.

``Your visit to Germany in 1996 was a huge event for the development of German-Israel relations,'' he said. ``I am sure that the strengthening of this relationship will continue further thanks to your work in the future.''

Weizman, whose shoot-from-the-lip style has won him friends on the street but made him enemies in high places, rode to a comfortable victory in the secret parliamentary ballot against Shaul Amor, a backbencher from Netanyahu's Likud party.

On his visit to Germany in early 1996, Weizman angered many of the 60,000 German Jews who survived the Holocaust for saying he could not understand why Jews could live in Germany and urged them to go to Israel.

Weizman, a former fighter pilot who went on to help forge Israel's landmark 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, will be sworn in to a new five-year term on May 18.

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Alleged Lithuania war criminal says ``simple man''
09:11 p.m Mar 06, 1998 Eastern

VILNIUS, March 6 (Reuters) - Alleged Lithuanian war criminal Aleksandras Likelikis said on Friday he was a ``simple, small man'' and that accusations against him were nonsense.

Likeikis, 91 and bedridden after heart attacks and strokes, is to be tried on allegations he handed Jews to Nazi murder squads when he was head of the Vilnius security police during World War Two.

``Sooner or later it will become clear that I am not notorious but a simple, small man,'' Lileikis told daily newspaper Respublika.

``Can you imagine that they said that Lileikis is responsible 10,000 Jews losing their lives? And what can I say to such nonsense,'' he added.

Lileikis's trial was suspended on Thursday until mid-May after the defence asked for testimony from two witnesses, including one Jewish woman whom Lileikis allegedly saved. She is now believed to be in an old people's home in the United States.

Lileikis says the main prosecution evidence of signed orders authorising the handing over of Jews are forgeries by the Soviet KGB security police.

Nazi-hunters have attacked the trial delay as unneccesary, saying that the authorities hope the ailing Lileikis will die before a trial can take place.

Some 96 percent of Lithuania's once flourishing, 200,000-strong Jewish community was wiped out during the Holocaust, which historians say was one of the highest killing rates in Nazi-occupied areas.

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Lithuania opens Holocaust war crimes trial
06:09 p.m Mar 04, 1998 Eastern

VILNIUS, March 4 (Reuters) - A Lithuanian judge on Wednesday heard preliminary arguments in a case against a 91-year-old war crimes suspect alleged to have handed over scores of Jews to murder squads.

Aleksandrdas Lileikis, who was not in court because of health problems, was head of the Vilnius security police in World War Two. He denies he is guilty of war crimes.

The first step in the case was a 20-minute pre-trial hearing to decide if the case could go ahead or whether it needed to be returned to prosecutors for more investigation.

Judge Viktoras Kazhys is expected to render the court's decision on Thursday.

Lileikis's lawyer, Algirdas Matuize, said the prosecution's evidence, documents with Lileikis's signature authorising the handing of Jews to death squads, were forgeries by the Soviet KGB security police.

``My client is absolutely innocent and now there is a good chance the judge will decide not to proceed,'' he told Reuters.

Prosecutors maintained there was enough evidence to warrant going to trial.

Lithuania's thriving pre-war Jewish population of 220,000 was nearly wiped during the Holocaust by Germans who were occasionally assisted by local Lithuanians.

Lileikis fled Lithuania after the war and spent most of the past 50 years in America until prosecutors stripped him of his citizenship in 1996 for concealing his wartime activities. He then returned to Vilnius.

He has suffered several strokes and has heart problems and now lives bedridden at home.

Lithuania has come under pressure from U.S. Congressmen and the Israeli Knesset to prosecute Lileikis and other alleged war criminals.

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Lithuania to charge second Nazi war suspect
03:52 p.m Feb 27, 1998 Eastern

VILNIUS, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Lithuania said on Friday it was pressing charges against a second man alleged to have helped in the murder of Jews during World War Two.

The prosecutor's office said it would press charges against Kazys Gimzhauskas, a former security police officer who denied he was guilty.

The authorities have already sent to court a case against another alleged war criminal, Aleksandras Lileikis, the first stage of his trial is expected next week.

``Kazys Gimzhauskas, while being subordinate to the Nazi German occupation authorities, is accused of assisting in the physical extermination of Lithuanian citizens who were ethnic Jews,'' said a statement from the Lithuanian prosecutor's office.

Gimzhauskas, 89, was second-in-command to Lileikis, 91, who was in charge of the Vilnius security police in World War Two.

Both are alleged to have signed documents authorising the handing over of Jews to be murdered.

The Holocaust decimated Lithuania's pre-war Jewish population of 220,000 with German forces occasionally assisted by locals.

``I totally disagree with these accusations and the prosecutor's office will find out that I am innocent,'' Gimzhauskas told Reuters.

``I am an ill person, lying in bed, and I can't tell you anything more,'' Gimzhauskas added.

The prosecutions of the two men follow persistent protests from Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre that Lithuania was dragging its feet in the prosecution of Nazi-era war criminals.

Lithuania had previously said it was difficult to prepare cases for crimes that occurred 50 years ago. REUTERS

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U.S. ``took Norwegian heavy water from Germany''
12:02 p.m. Mar 02, 1998 Eastern

By Tanya Pang

OSLO, March 2 (Reuters) - The United States confiscated more than two tonnes of Norwegian heavy water, used in producing atom bombs, from under the noses of French forces in Allied-occupied Germany in 1945, a Norwegian historian said on Monday.

Norway was negotiating membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) at the time and did not press U.S. authorities on the fate of the consignment.

``I think it is important that this matter is made public,'' Major Anton Martin Schweigaard told Reuters.

Schweigaard, now 87 years old and living in Asker just outside of Oslo, was sent to Germany in 1948 to recover Norwegian property stolen during Germany's occupation in World War Two.

During his investigations he heard that about 2.5 tonnes of heavy water had been exported from Norsk Hydro's plant at Rjukan into Nazi Germany and then disappeared.

Heavy water, used to produce radioactive plutonium 239 from uranium, was regarded at the time as having great significance in the race to make atom bombs. The Hydro plant was blown up by resistance fighters.

Following a trail of paperwork, Schweigaard was led to the Dr Otto Hahn Institute in Hechingen in the part of Germany occupied by France after the war.

``Two German scientists admitted that they had had two tonnes of heavy water and a smaller amount of uranium in stores. But during the last few days of the war U.S. forces came and confiscated everything just ahead of the French forces,'' Schweigaard told the daily Aftenposten.

He said American forces in Karlsruhe had confirmed the confiscation and said the heavy water had been taken to the United States.

Schweigaard was told that the matter was on ``too high a level'' to be discussed with him and would have to be raised on a government level. The major sent his report back to Norway.

``When I got home I asked my senior officer about the issue. He said the reason that nothing had been done about it was that the then Foreign Minister Hallvard Lange was negotiating with the Americans over Norway's NATO membership,'' he said.

The United States began hunting down German physicists and other scientists along with the results of their weapons research immediately after the war.

Olva Njoelstad of the Norwegian Defence Institute told Aftenposten that the Norwegian heavy water was unlikely to have had a great impact on U.S. research as the Americans could produce it themselves.

``The USA probably wanted to stop the Norwegian heavy water falling into the wrong hands, first and foremost probably the Soviet Union,'' Njoelstad said. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Polish minister blasts 1968 anti-Jewish campaign
01:06 a.m. Mar 06, 1998 Eastern

By Anthony Barker

WARSAW, March 5 (Reuters) - Poland is still toiling to undo the harm to its image caused by an anti-Jewish campaign which Communist authorities launched 30 years ago this month, Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek told parliament on Thursday.

To reinforce a 1968 attack on dissident students and intellectuals, the Communists mounted an ``anti-Zionist'' campaign of intimidation that forced thousands of Jews or people of Jewish origin to quit their native Poland.

``The Communist authorities undertook actions which for decades weighed negatively on the image of Poland and the Polish nation,'' said Geremek, who was a leading democracy activist before the 1989 fall of communism.

``These were actions motivated by baseness and stupidity. They showed a lack of respect for Poland,'' he said in a speech outlining foreign policy priorities.

``We are now toiling to make up for this negative legacy of communism,'' added Geremek, who noted that Sunday would mark the main anniversary of this episode.

On March 8, 1968, authorities orchestrated a mob assault by workers against students at Warsaw university.

Both the Solidarity bloc (AWS), main partner in the ruling coalition, and the social democrat opposition born from the former Communist party, condemned the 1968 events on Thursday.

Solidarity spokesman Piotr Zak said the AWS would propose a parliamentary motion damning the campaign which had been designed to crush freedoms and was ``aimed at the intelligentsia and academic youth while calling on anti-Semitic slogans.''

The ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance said events had been a provocation used in brutal power struggle in the party.

``It wronged many citizens and restored stereotypes that compromise our country,'' PAP news agency quoted the grouping as saying in a statement.

Geremek said Poland's interests lay in dialogue with Jewish diaspora groups, in the United States and Western Europe.

Polish governments have worked to improve relations with Jewish communities abroad since democracy was restored in 1989.

This has been helped by a law last year providing for the gradual restitution of properties that once belonged to Jewish religious communities and later taken by the Communists.

Geremek said the process also gained from an agreement late last year on the better conservation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp built by the Nazis in south Poland.

Before the Second World War, Poland was home to the largest Jewish population in the world but most of the 3.5 million Jews were murdered by Nazi German invaders in World War Two.

Many survivors left at least in part because of a 1946 pogrom in the city of Kielce.

The 1968 campaign, stemming partly from a power-struggle between a nationalist group and other factions within the Communist party, was a further blow to Jewish community life.

It also drove out many of Poland's best artists, scientists and writers and other intellectuals. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Polish party backs law restoring citizenship to Jewish exiles

7 March 1998
Web posted at: 00:48 CET, Paris time (23:48 GMT)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) Polish lawmakers are pushing to restore the citizenship of Jews who fled the country following a 1968 anti-Semitic communist campaign.

The Freedom Union, a junior partner in Poland's Solidarity-led government, said Friday it plans to ask Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek to draft the law.

Only about 250,000 Jews from Poland's thriving, 3.5 million-strong community survived the Holocaust. Tens of thousands escaped in the late 1960s, under an anti-Semitic campaign that the communists invoked to silence social unrest. Those who fled lost their citizenship.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski, an ex-communist, told Radio Zet on Friday that he would issue a statement next week encouraging people to apply for reinstated citizenship.

But the Freedom Union said exiled Jews should not have endure the bureaucracy of an application.

"Applying for restoring citizenship is treated by many as an additional humiliation," party leader Henryk Wujec said.

About 20,000 Jews live in Poland today.

_PARAGRAPH>

Copyright 1998   The Associated Press.

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Nuns give up controversial Auschwitz convent
05:36 p.m Mar 02, 1998 Eastern

WARSAW, March 2 (Reuters) - Polish Carmelite nuns have officially relinquished their ownership of a controversial convent at the edge of the former Auschwitz Nazi death camp.

The Carmelites handed over to Poland's State Treasury the building which had housed their convent until 1993, PAP news agency on Monday quoted Boguslaw Skreta, an interior ministry official in charge of religious affairs, as saying.

A bitter controversy erupted around the convent more than a decade ago, reflecting divergent sensibilities of Roman Catholics and Jews over how to commemorate the victims of Nazi German invaders during World War Two.

The Nazis murdered an estimated 1.5 million people at the twin Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, more than 90 percent of them Jewish.

But during the first two years of the Auschwitz camp's existence, ethnic Poles accounted for the majority of victims.

The Carmelites, a cloistered order, moved into a building next to the former Auschwitz camp in southern Poland during the 1980s. There, they prayed for all victims of genocide regardless of their religion or nationality.

But Jewish groups charged that the convent's presence at Auschwitz, in a building that once was used to store poison gas, seemed to be an attempt to Catholicise the Holocaust.

The Carmelites vacated the building in 1993 following a world-wide Jewish outcry and have moved to a new convent farther away from the former camp.

Skreta said the nuns would be compensated for the building but added that the agreement did not cover a large wooden cross outside the convent, which remains controversial.

Krzysztof Sliwinski, the government's ambassador for dialogue with the Jewish Diaspora, angered some Polish Catholics when he recently said the cross would soon be removed with the consent of the Vatican and the local bishop.

Episcopate spokesman Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek has disputed Sliwinski's statement and called it ``unauthorised.''

Some Polish Catholics are unhappy about the removal of crosses and Stars of David last year from the former Birkenau death camp, where they had been placed by Catholic youths despite objections from Jews who recalled that this is the world's largest Jewish cemetery.

Jews argue that Holocaust sites are ``accursed'' and should remain free of religious symbols. Catholics consider setting up crosses the only fitting way to honour their dead.

During his first papal visit to Poland in 1979, Polish-born John Paul II celebrated mass beneath the cross, which marks the site of the first mass execution of Poles by the Germans at Auschwitz, near the town of Oswiecim. REUTERS

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Sweden publishes names of WW2 bank account owners
05:49 p.m Mar 04, 1998 Eastern

By Abigail Schmelz

STOCKHOLM, March 4 (Reuters) - Sweden on Wednesday released a list of the holders of 649 bank accounts untouched since World War Two and containing about seven million crowns ($875,000), jewellery and other articles.

Jewish representatives said some of the unclaimed assets belonged to Jews murdered by Nazi Germany, recalling a scandal that battered Swiss banks last year.

The assets in the listed accounts included the contents, mostly jewellery, of safe deposit boxes.

``The list contains the names of the account holders...with foreign addresses who, in 1945, had bank assets in Sweden and who have not been heard from since,'' the Commission on Jewish Assets in Sweden at the Time of the Second World War said in a statement.

The list can be viewed on the Internet at www.ud.se.

People who believe they are rightful owners of the assets were asked to get in touch with banks such as Swedbank, Handelsbanken, Nordbanken, S-E-Banken, Ostgota Enskilda Bank and the central bank, the Riksbank.

The list included foreign exchange deposits seized by Swedish authorities during the war years, in which Sweden was neutral, or shortly thereafter.

``If a person can prove he or she is the rightful owner, then they can claim it. Since so much time has passed it's very difficult to prove...So I believe it will be a liberal judgement,'' Rolf Wirten, head of the commission, told Reuters. ``We hope to get a lot of information back from people who know something about the accounts.''

The number of accounts uncovered was greater than found by a similar investigation in the 1960s.

``Now we are sure there are no accounts in the Swedish banking system which are not on the list,'' Wirten said.

Experts said most of the account holders had probably died, many of them victims of Nazi concentration camps.

Several of the account holders lived in the Baltic republics where most Jews were murdered by Nazi occupiers or local allies during World War Two.

The list may also include Nazis who stole money from their Jewish victims, Swedish television said. There were also Swedish names on the list and many who had addresses in the United States.

The assets included the contents of safe deposit boxes, bank accounts with bank books, accounts held with bank trust departments, and some jewels.

The figure of seven million crowns includes interest, for which payments stopped 10 years after the last contact with the account holder.

No decision had been made on how unclaimed assets should be disposed of.

A member of an investigative team given access to Riksbank archives last year said in December that Sweden acquired gold from Nazi Germany even though it suspected it was looted from Jews or occupied countries.

The inquiry also showed that Sweden bought bars from the Netherlands made of melted-down gold, so gold once owned by individual Jews may have ended up in Sweden.

Swiss banks have been the subject of recent international controversy over their handling of the assets of Jews who died in the Nazi Holocaust. Switzerland was also neutral in the war.

The first international conference on the origins and fate of Nazi gold was held in London in December. A follow-up conference is due to be held in Washington this year. REUTERS

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649 Swedish bank accounts untouched since WW2
10:02 p.m. Mar 03, 1998 Eastern

STOCKHOLM, March 3 (Reuters) - A Swedish government commission inquiry has found seven million crowns ($880,000) in 649 bank accounts untouched since the end of World War Two, the Swedish news agency TT said on Tuesday.

Jewish representatives said they believed some of the unclaimed assets belonged to Jews murdered by Nazi Germany, a situation recalling a scandal that battered Swiss banks last year.

``We must investigate every possibility to locate Jewish assets,'' lawyer Lennart Kanter, a member of the Commission on Jewish Assets in Sweden, told Swedish television. ``And this is one of them.''

No transactions from the accounts had been recorded since 1945. A list with the names of the holders of the accounts will be published on Wednesday in an attempt to locate survivors or their relatives.

Swedish television said most of the account holders had probably died, many of them victims of Nazi concentration camps.

Several of the account holders, it said, had been residents of the Baltic republics where most Jews were murdered by Nazi occupiers or local allies during World War Two.

The list may also include Nazis who stole money from their Jewish victims, Swedish television said. There were also Swedish names on the list.

The number of accounts uncovered was greater than what was found by a similar investigation in the 1960s.

Kanter said the banks had cooperated well with the commission inquiry. The results of the investigation have been submitted to the government.

The Commission on Jewish Assets was due to hold a news conference at 1200 GMT on Wednesday to present its own list of dormant accounts in Swedish banks.

The findings resulted from a government decision to look more closely at Swedish banks and the archives of the Swedish central bank, or Riksbank, to check whether they harboured assets unclaimed since the war.

A member of an investigative team given access to Riksbank archives last year said in December that Sweden acquired gold from Nazi Germany even though it suspected it was looted from Jews or occupied countries.

Sweden was neutral during the war.

The inquiry also showed that Sweden bought bars from the Netherlands made of gold melted around that time, so it could not be ruled out that gold once owned by individual Jews ended up in Sweden.

Swiss banks have been the subject of international controversy over their handling of the assets of Jews who died in the Nazi Holocaust.

The first international conference on the origins and fate of Nazi gold was held in London in December with delegates from 41 countries attending. A follow-up conference is due to be held in Washington this year.

A Swiss report said the biggest buyer of gold from Hitler's central bank between 1939 and 1945 was Switzerland, which was also neutral. It said Nazi Germany took $146 million in gold from Holocaust victims and other individuals which could be worth $1.3 billion at today's prices. ($ - 7.973 Swedish Crowns) REUTERS

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Large response to Sweden's idle WW2 bank accounts
10:29 p.m. Mar 06, 1998 Eastern

STOCKHOLM, March 6 (Reuters) - Over 100 people have come forward in the two days since Sweden published a list of 649 bank accounts untouched since World War Two, officials said on Friday.

``It has been very intensive, many people have called,'' said Gertrud Forkman, secretary of the Commission on Jewish Assets in Sweden at the Time of the Second World War.

Those who have contacted the commission either recognised a name on the list or believed they could be related to one of the bank account holders. Many calls were from people living in Sweden but some also came from abroad.

``We have had calls from Estonia, the United States and from the other Nordic countries,'' Forkman told Reuters.

However nobody claiming to be one of the people on the list had been in touch.

``I wouldn't believe many are still alive,'' Forkman said.

The government commission inquiry published the list on Wednesday. It said the unclaimed bank accounts contained about seven million crowns ($870,000), jewellery and other articles.

Jewish representatives said some of the unclaimed assets belonged to Jews murdered by Nazi Germany, echoing a controversy which has battered Swiss banks. Switzerland, like Sweden, was neutral in the war.

Experts said most of the holders of the Swedish accounts had probably died, many of them victims of Nazi concentration camps.

Several of the account holders lived in the Baltic republics where most Jews were murdered by the Nazi occupiers or their local allies during World War Two.

But there were also Swedish names on the list and many others with addresses in the United States.

Forkman said none of those who had called had stated with certainty that a person on the list had disappeared in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. ``There is no-one who has been absolutely certain about that,'' she said.

The assets in the listed accounts, which can be viewed on the Internet at www.ud.se, also included the contents of safe deposit boxes -- mostly jewellery.

The commission has asked people who believe they are the rightful owners of the assets to get in touch with Swedish banks.

Robert Vikstrom, who has been handling calls at Swedish bank Svenska Handelsbanken (SHBa.ST) , said he had received between 30 and 40 calls in the past two days.

``It is mostly people who believe they may be relatives, or people who recognise the names,'' he told Reuters.

Vikstrom said there were two cases where it appeared fairly certain that the holders of the bank accounts had been deported to Siberia from the Baltics, victims of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's terror.

There were also calls about Swedes who had moved to the United States without closing their bank accounts.

Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEBa.ST) had received a total of 55 calls on Thursday and Friday, said spokeswoman Eva-Lisa Lennstrom.

(1$-8.05) REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Swiss banker sees no danger of Holocaust boycotts
10:46 a.m. Mar 05, 1998 Eastern

ZURICH, March 5 (Reuters) - Swiss banks no longer face a threat of Holocaust sanctions from U.S. state and local governments, a top Swiss banker in the United States told the Thursday edition of news magazine Facts.

Richard Capone, head of Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS ) operations in the Americas, said Switzerland's efforts to find the owners of dormant accounts left by Holocaust victims and come to terms with its past had changed the views of U.S. officials.

Asked whether the threat of boycotts was over, near the end of a three-month moratorium by U.S. regional officials, Capone told the magazine: ``My personal opinion is, yes.''

``The Swiss banks and the Swiss government have shown flexibility. A lot of positive signals have been sent,'' said Capone.

``A boycott would only be counterproductive. Even senior representatives of the World Jewish Congress have repeatedly said that a boycott would really be the absolutely last step in solving the Holocaust issue,'' Capone said.

A steering committee of public finance officers will meet on March 26 to decide whether to support boycotts against Swiss banks, a source close to the officials said last week.

The meeting comes near the end of March 31 of a three-month moratorium on sanctions agreed by U.S. city and state finance officers to allow Swiss banks to prove they are trying to return the assets of Holocaust victims to their owners or heirs.

About 200 public finance officials set up the five-member committee last December to investigate the issue after California, Massachusetts, New York and several other states began imposing sanctions on Swiss banks.

``Now the question is whether to extend the moratorium or to allow sanctions,'' the source said.

The five-member committee, headed by New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi and including the state treasurers of New York and California, will meet in New York on March 26 in Hevesi's office.

They have asked for testimony from the Swiss government, the Swiss Bankers Association and the World Jewish Congress. ^[email protected]

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Belittled Holocaust sculpture finds home in Zurich
11:53 p.m. Mar 05, 1998 Eastern

ZURICH, March 5 (Reuters) - A Holocaust memorial sculpture hijacked from its temporary home in front of the Swiss parliament building in Berne found a new display site in Zurich on Thursday when city officials welcomed the controversial work.

Schang Hutter's ``Shoah'' steel sculpture, which depicts a figure trapped in a cube, arrived by truck at Zurich's Paradeplatz, a square in the heart of the banking district.

The Swiss artist triggered a heated debate in Switzerland last week by planting his work directly in front of parliament instructions from government officials to move it to one side.

Upset by the move, which came amid Jewish groups' allegations that neutral Switzerland cynically profitted from World War Two, the right-wing Swiss Freedom Party had the work carted off from the capital Berne and sent back to the artist.

``The junk is gone,'' it announced in a statement.

Zurich city president Josef Estermann then offered the work a new home in a spot that puts it on the sidewalk only a few meters above banks' gold vaults.

A few dozen people watched the sculpture arrive, many of them grumbling over the fact that Zurich was its new home. REUTERS

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UN rights envoy says Germany must fight extremism
10:04 p.m. Mar 05, 1998 Eastern

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, March 5 (Reuters) - Germany should implement a strategy to prevent religious intolerance, a United Nations human rights investigator said on Thursday.

Abdelfattah Amor, a former dean of the University of Tunis law faculty who serves as U.N. special rapporteur on religious intolerance, urged Germany to educate youth ``to prevent them from falling victim to manipulation, extremism and fanaticism.''

But he rejected as ``meaningless and puerile'' statements by the Church of Scientology comparing modern Germany to the Nazi state.

German authorities placed the Church of Scientology under surveillance last June on suspicion of ``anti-constitutional'' intent. In a letter signed last January by several Hollywood stars who are members of the church, the Los Angeles-based movement protested to Bonn.

Amor's 28-page report on Germany was submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which opens its annual six-week session to scrutinise alleged violations on March 16.

The U.N. investigator said he had ``excellent cooperation'' from German authorities during his September 17-27 visit.

``Undeniably, Germany is today a democratic liberal State based on sound democratic institutions, legislation that conforms to international law and a vigorous international human rights policy,'' he wrote.

Germany does not recognise Scientology as a religion, a status which would bring legal and tax advantages, and sees it as a business that exploits its members for financial gain -- a charge denied by the movement.

``The authorities have pointed out that being under observation was not preventing Scientology from pursuing its activities,'' Amor said.

The U.N. investigator added: ``There is no need to emphasise that any comparison between modern Germany and Nazi Germany is so shocking as to be meaningless and puerile.''

But he urged Germany to step up education to propagate a culture of tolerance. ``The special rapporteur also believes that the State, beyond day-to-day management, must implement a strategy to prevent intolerance in the field of religion and belief.''

While Germany's Jewish community, which numbered 50,000 in 1994, is able to ``flourish as a religious minority,'' the situation of the country's Moslem minority, estimated at 2.5 to three million, is ``markedly less favourable,'' according to Amor.

``The authorities are responsible for protecting the Moslem minority... and for tackling the manifestations of hatred or intolerance towards them that occasionally marked the early years of this decade,'' he said.

``It is also essential that the media, and the popular press in particular, should cease portraying a negative image of Islam and Moslems, who are too often associated with religious extremists.''

Moslem representatives cited recurrent problems including public opposition to planned building of mosques, to calls to prayer, slaughter of animals, wearing of head scarves and girls' non-participation in mixed sporting activities such as swimming. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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CORRECTED - U.S. finance officers to meet on Swiss boycott issue
01:23 a.m. Feb 28, 1998 Eastern

LOS ANGELES, Feb 27 (Reuters) - A group of U.S. public finance officials will meet on March 26 to decide whether to support imposing a boycott on Swiss banks for their failure to return assets of Holocaust victims, a source close to the officials said on Friday.

About 200 public finance officials set up a five-member committee last December to investigate the issue after California, Massachusetts, New York and several other states began imposing sanctions on Swiss banks.

After the committee was established state and local finance officials agreed to a three-month moratorium on any action, setting a March 31 deadline for a report by the five-member committee.

``Now the question is whether to extend the moratorium or to allow sanctions,'' the source said.

The five-member committee, headed by New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi and including the state treasurers of New York and California, will meet in New York on March 26 in Hevesi's office. They have asked for testimony from the Swiss government, the Swiss Bankers Association and the World Jewish Congress.

A letter sent to those groups from Hevesi said, ``We ask that you present to the committee an evaluation of the issues and the progress made for moral and financial restitution.''

The State Department opposes having state and local governments boycott business with Swiss banks.

But a Jewish source close to the finance officials said, ``Just as the State Department opposed sanctions against the apartheid regime of South Africa, their view on the Swiss case has become irrelevant since their objective is good relations to the Swiss government at any cost.''

Since the issue broke two years ago, the Swiss have set up an independent commission headed by former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker to comb through bank records and trace unclaimed accounts. In addition, Swiss banks and businesses have established a $200 million fund to aid Holocaust victims.

Hevesi and others have argued that the Swiss should reach a more far-reaching global settlement for restitution for having failed to return unclaimed Holocaust-era bank deposits to survivors or their heirs and for having accepted gold looted by the Nazis during the war.

A Swiss historian's commission has said that the Swiss government accepted about $4.5 billion in Nazi gold, at current values, of which $1.5 billion was looted from individuals.

But a Swiss official at last month's 40-nation Nazi gold conference in London said his government would not now return any gold as it considered the issue settled by a 1946 treaty the country reached with Britain, France and the United States.

The Jewish source said that statement was a breach of faith because he said the Swiss had promised to restore looted assets. REUTERS

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Forced war laborer sues Ford for compensation
01:41 a.m. Mar 05, 1998 Eastern

By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK, March 4 (Reuters) - A Russian woman who was abducted by the Nazis as a teen-ager and forced to work at a plant run by Ford's German subsidiary is suing the automotive giant, claiming the company knowingly profited from use of forced labor in Germany during the Second World War.

The woman, Elsa Iwanowa, who now lives in Antwerp, Belgium, was able to bring the action because of a change in German law late last year which for the first time permits forced laborers to file individual claims against corporations.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, on Wednesday alleges that Ford Motor Co., as the owner of a substantial majority of the shares of its German subsidiary Ford Werke A.G., was ``unjustly enriched by knowingly accepting substantial economic benefits'' using forced labor.

The suit seeks a share of profits accrued by the company from use of forced labor in Germany during the war, as well as pay never received for work and compensatory and punitive damages with interest, and court and attorneys fees.

Ford issued a statement saying ``the plant was under Nazi control during the war and not returned to Ford control until after the war by Allied military authorities.''

But the company said it was reinstituting an active, deep search of Ford archives in the United States and Germany ``to see if there are additional facts available ... When we receive the results of this effort, we will proceed from there.''

According to the complaint, Iwanowa, who brought the suit on her own behalf as well as ``on behalf of all ... persons who were compelled to perform forced labor for Ford Werke A.G. between 1941-1945,'' was abducted by the Nazis from her home in Rostov, Russia, on Oct. 6, 1942.

The teen-ager was literally purchased by Ford Werke, the suit said, along with 38 other children, and sent to work at its Cologne plant, where she drilled holes into the motor blocks of engines for military trucks.

The laborers lived in a wooden hut without heat, running water or sewage facilities and were never paid, the suit said.

``This action ... will seek final justice for hundreds of thousands of victims enslaved or forced to work for the benefit of the German war effort during the Second World War,'' said Melvyn Weiss of the New York firm Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach LLP and lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

According to the complaint, by 1941 Ford Werke was devoting itself to military trucks. At that time 75 percent of its shares were owned by Ford Motor Co., with additional shares owned by Ford subsidiaries.

The Nazis never confiscated Ford Werke, unlike most U.S.-owned companies, regarding the company as ``a purely German company'' with a CEO, Robert Schmidt, who was a Nazi and served as Germany's Military Economic Leader during the war.

The Nazis ``meticulously safeguarded wartime dividends payable from Ford Werke A.G. to Ford Motor Company ... by paying them into a fund for delivery to Ford Motor Company at the close of the war,'' the suit alleged. After 1947 Ford Motor Co. took ``substantial profits and benefits'' from Ford Werke.

Through use of forced labor, the suit said, Ford Werke's already high profitability doubled between 1939 and 1943.

The complaint also said the Nazis' favorable treatment of Ford Motor Co. was attributable to a ``personal friendship between Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler,'' noting the two exchanged birthday gifts and Ford's publication of the anti-Semitic tract ``The International Jew, a Worldwide Problem.''

During the war over 7.5 million people were forcibly deported from occupied territory to Germany to support its war effort, and subjected to ``all the tortures, indignities and suffering that the human mind can encompass,'' the suit said.

French prisoners of war were used by Ford Werke beginning in 1941, in violation of the Hague and Geneva Conventions, with Russians, Ukrainians, Italians and Belgian civilians eventually laboring at Ford's Cologne plant, the suit said. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Law Center says U.S. ``hate'' movement grew in 1997
08:12 p.m Mar 03, 1998 Eastern

By June Preston

ATLANTA, March 3 (Reuters) - The number of ``hate'' groups promoting racial and religious intolerance in the United States rose by 20 percent last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center said on Tuesday.

``The tentacles of the hate movement are reaching places where they've never been before,'' said Joe Roy, director of the center's Intelligence Project. ``Mainstream America is being targeted in a way this country hasn't seen in decades.''

The project's annual report said the number of U.S. ``hate'' groups it identified rose by 20 percent last year to 474 from 1996 levels.

Among groups spreading intolerance in the United States were ones identified with religion, racist ideologies and rock 'n' roll bands, the report said.

The groups cited by the report included 127 Ku Klux Klan, 100 neo-Nazi and 42 skinhead groups, 81 groups tied to the Christian Identity movement and 12 black separatist groups, including the Nation of Islam.

Christian Identity adherents consider whites to be the Bible's chosen people and Jews to be agents of Satan.

``Hate is an equal opportunity employer,'' the report said. ``Just as white supremacists interpret the Bible to justify their cause, black separatists look to Christianity and other religions to back their views.''

The law center said it identified 50,000 followers of the Christian Identity movement, including Eric Robert Rudolph, the man wanted by the FBI in the Jan. 29 bombing of a Birmingham, Ala. abortion clinic.

The law center singled out Michigan-based Resistance Records in propagating the message of violence through various rock groups. Resistance Records was founded in 1994 and by 1996 was turning a profit off its cassettes and CD albums.

``The appeal of the virulently racist bands it promotes is expanding, both in the United States and elsewhere,'' the report said. ``The bands are now drawing hundreds of new recruits into the racist movement. Their music provides ideologically unsophisticated racists a kind of shared culture.''

The report also identified 163 sites on the World Wide Web used by U.S. ``hate'' groups, including 29 espousing Klan beliefs, 39 posting neo-Nazi doctrine, 27 containing Skinhead messages, 25 espousing Christian Identity doctrine and 46 from various other hate groups.

``These are not merely lone malcontents serving up hate from a bedroom computer,'' the center said, adding that half the Internet sites posted by groups solicited memberships and offered materials that could be ordered. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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N.J. holocaust bill passes legislative hurdle
09:50 p.m Mar 02, 1998 Eastern

TRENTON, N.J., March 2 (Reuters) - A proposed law that would require the New Jersey state government to divest holdings in Swiss financial institutions linked to the Nazi Holocaust won backing on Monday from a key legislative panel.

The New Jersey Assembly's Banking and Insurance Committee voted 7-0 to approve the legislation, which would prevent state officials from investing pension funds in the institutions until Swiss banks agreed to pay back money deposited by Holocaust victims before and during the Second World War.

The vote followed a short hearing at which half a dozen Holocaust survivors, their families and supporters pressed committee members to support the measure, the only one of its kind to be proposed by a U.S. state legislature.

Critics of the Swiss banking system say War-era deposits by Holocaust victims would now be worth about $7 billion. Many have threatened a national boycott of Swiss institutions if Swiss, U.S., Israeli and Jewish community leaders do not resolve the issue by April 1.

To date, New Jersey is the only state to propose a law calling for divestiture of Swiss banking investments. The bill would affect only $68 million in state funds. But supporters say adoption could encourage other states to follow suit.

``Look at our neighbors, like New York and Delaware, where you've got billions of investments in Swiss banks. That's really where the impact will be felt. But somebody has to be first,'' said Steven Some, chairman of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.

Among U.S. states, New Jersey has the second biggest concentration of Holocaust survivors after New York. Unofficial estimates from the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington show 2,600 Holocaust survivors living in New Jersey, and an estimated 58,000 in the United States.

The office of New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman had no immediate comment on Monday's vote, which sent the measure on to the Assembly's Appropriations Committee for final consideration before a floor vote.

The bill worries some politicians because several Swiss companies, including the pharmaceutical firm Novartis, maintain major operations in New Jersey. Before Monday's vote, the banking and insurance panel defeated a Democratic proposal to divest state holdings in all Swiss businesses.

``The intent here is not to condemn the Swiss people as a people, or all Swiss institutions because they're Swiss. It's to focus on those parties that are culpable. In this instance, Swiss financial institutions,'' said Assemblyman Joel Weingarten, the West Sussex Republican who introduced the measure.

Among those who testified before the state panel was Christoph Meili, a former night watchman who revealed that Union Bank of Switzerland had shredded Nazi-era bank documents that might help track the wealth of Holocaust victims.

``I'm not surprised to see that Switzerland does nothing about this,'' said Meili, who was granted residence status in the United States after claims that he had been hounded by UBS. REUTERS

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U.S. senate panel backs Nazi disclosure bill
04:41 a.m. Mar 06, 1998 Eastern

WASHINGTON, March 5 (Reuters) - The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously on Thursday for a bill that would require the disclosure of all U.S. records on Nazi war criminals and stolen assets of Holocaust victims.

``The perpetrators of the Holocaust committed unthinkable crimes against humanity -- it is time to ensure all doors are fully open on this subject,'' said Ohio Republican Sen. Mike DeWine.

He co-sponsored the bill with Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat.

The Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act would amend the Freedom of Information Act to make the release of Nazi-era records easier.

It would go further by requiring the government to make a concerted effort to look for and disclose all relevant records, except in narrowly defined national security cases.

Sponsors say U.S. openness would set an example for other countries. Switzerland in particular has been pressed to reveal more about its financial dealings with Nazi gold, and to trace assets that might have been stolen from Nazi victims. REUTERS

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Jewish group rejects Swiss request on camp report
02:33 a.m. Mar 05, 1998 Eastern

LOS ANGELES, March 4 (Reuters) - A Jewish group refused a Swiss request on Wednesday to retract a controversial report it issued accusing the neutral nation of treating Jewish refugees like slaves in forced labor camps during World War Two.

In a letter to the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center made public on Wednesday, the Swiss government's top envoy for Holocaust issues called the report ``nothing but an anti-Swiss polemic'' and ruled out an apology the group had demanded.

Instead, Swiss diplomat Thomas Borer asked the group to disassociate itself from the report.

But Rabbi Marvin Heir, the dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said the center stood by the report and added, ``(We) do not believe that the Swiss camps can in any be compared to German labor camps. Any such comparison is not only historically inaccurate but unfair to Switzerland and we have never said that.

``We (also) do not deny that the 28,000 Jews in Switzerland were saved from the Nazi Holocaust.

``But that has nothing to do with the central issue of the report which was whether or not the Jewish refugees were treated in a humanitarian way or treated as unwanted guests. We maintain, by and large at least until the final stages of the war, they were treated as unwanted guests. We stand by the report.''

The report, entitled ``The Unwanted Guests - Swiss Forced Labor Camps 1940-1944,'' was prepared by U.S. historian Alan Schom for the center and released in January.

In it, Schom said thousands of Jews entering Switzerland during the war years were forced into camps where they did hard manual labor at gunpoint for little or no compensation.

But Swiss leaders as well as former Jewish refugees and historians have called the findings one-sided, arguing that all refugees and many Swiss themselves suffered wartime hardships including mandatory labor.

Former refugees have written to politicians and newspapers thanking Switzerland for saving them from the Holocaust.

But Rabbi Heir said Switzerland acknowledges it turned away about 30,000 would-be refugees, most of them Jews, during the war. It also forced Jewish organizations to finance the bulk of costs for the thousands of Jews it did let into the country.

Swiss ambassador Borer said the estimate of 30,000 rebuffed refugees, based on the work of independent Swiss historians, was far less than the tally of 100,000 in the Shom report.

Jews fleeing the Holocaust were turned back especially after 1942, when Swiss policy hardened and Berne asked Germany to stamp a ``J'' in German Jews' passports so that border guards would know whom to reject.

Switzerland already apologized for its wartime refugee policy in a 1995 speech by then-president Kaspar Villiger on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War Two, Borer said.

``Although there is much in Switzerland's refugee record that is far from perfect and should be the proper subject of self-examination and reproach, I believe that, put in proper context and objectively compared with the behavior of others, Switzerland's actions compare favorably to the conduct of any other nation ...'' Borer wrote.

Heir said he did not doubt there were individuals whose experience was different from accounts cited in the report.

But he added, ``There are numerous accounts of mothers being separated from their children, of harsh treatment and of people being denied food and medical treatment. It is simply not befitting a country that laid claim to know how to treat refugees because they house the international headquarters of the Red Cross.'' REUTERS

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Farmbelt Fuehrer loses bid for German jail release
05:21 p.m Feb 25, 1998 Eastern

HAMBURG, Feb 25 (Reuters) - An American neo-Nazi known as the ``Farmbelt Fuehrer'' who is serving a four-year sentence for violating Germany's tough anti-extremist laws lost an appeal on Wednesday to be released early.

Gary Lauck, who was convicted in 1996 of inciting racial hatred by smuggling extreme right-wing propaganda into Germany, lost his appeal to be released on probation, a state court in Hamburg said.

The court said even though prisoners are generally eligible for parole after serving two-thirds of their sentences, it believed Lauck was a security risk because it feared he would soon resume sending racist propaganda to Germany.

Nazi watchers had said that before his arrest Lauck, a 44-year-old Hitler fanatic from Lincoln, Nebraska, was the main source of neo-Nazi propaganda in Germany for two decades.

Lauck, so obsessed with Nazism that he speaks English with a German accent, headed the National Socialist German Workers' Party Foreign Organisation (NSDAP-AO) -- a group which derives its name from the full German title of Hitler's party.

Publishing and distributing neo-Nazi material is illegal in Germany but Lauck's lawyer insisted his client had broken no laws in the United States and prosecutors had not proved he was deliberately smuggling material into Germany.

Lauck's worldwide propaganda empire produced anti-Semitic and rightist publications such as the ``NS Kampfruf'' magazine (''National Socialist Battle Cry'') and other propaganda including posters, badges and stickers.

The conviction was a major coup for Nazi-busting prosecutors, who had been trying to get Lauck extradited to Germany for trial for years.

U.S. authorities had said they could not touch him as he had broken no laws in his homeland. Germany finally got its chance to nab Lauck, a U.S. citizen, when he visited Denmark.

Police detained him on an international arrest warrant and the courts decided he could be extradited as, although neo-Nazi propaganda is not illegal there, his material was so extreme it violated Denmark's racial hatred laws. REUTERS


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