English News Archive

News between March 23rd, and March 7th, reversely ordered by date (i.e.: the newest can be found on top). For recent news select English News.


Headlines


23.3.1998: Kohl to push ahead with Berlin Holocaust memorial
23.3.1998: German bank says its gold might be Nazi loot
23.3.1998: French right stops Front drive but at high cost
23.3.1998: Turbulent French vote spells defeat for Le Pen
23.3.1998: Front strategist Megret winner in French turmoil
22.3.1998: Meeting of Canadian far-right activists fizzles
22.3.1998: FOCUS-Catholic-Jewish talks in shadow of Holocaust
22.3.1998: Far-right Austrian party gains in regional election
22.3.1998: FOCUS-Battered French right braces for more shocks
22.3.1998: Bomb From WWII Kills 5 Filipinos 21.3.1998: French press cry ``traitor'' after rightists defect
21.3.1998: National Front boosts pressure on French right
21.3.1998: Pope John Paul says Pius XII was a great Pope
21.3.1998: Sweden gave Nazi Germany export credits - paper
20.3.1998: FOCUS-French Right reels as extremists cut deals
20.3.1998: Swiss plan no boycott of U.S. telecoms bidders
20.3.1998: Chances slim for quick Swiss Holocaust settlement
20.3.1998: Canadian ultra-right gathering sparks controversy
19.3.1998: Plaintiffs furious at sentence request for Papon
19.3.1998: Chirac urges French right to shun National Front
19.3.1998: Jospin warns of far-right danger to France
19.3.1998: Swiss may retaliate if U.S. boycotts banks
19.3.1998: Top Catholic historian hits back at Jewish charges
19.3.1998: Berlin Mayor questions Holocaust memorial -report
19.3.1998: Fresh row threatens Berlin Holocaust memorial
19.3.1998: Israel, post Cook, lays it on thick for Austria PM
19.3.1998: Russia alarmed by mute reaction to Riga SS parade
19.3.1998: Israel denounces Nazi SS reunion in Latvia
18.3.1998: Wiesenthal Centre wants France to check ex-Nazis
18.3.1998: National Front still wants ``France first'' policy
18.3.1998: France's RPR seeks to halt split over extremists
18.3.1998: Swiss Holocaust fund starts payments to gypsies
18.3.1998: Rabbis See Vatican Text as Good First Step
18.3.1998: Le Pen dismisses Pope's Holocaust call
18.3.1998: Berlin publisher pulls CD with Hitler quotes
17.3.1998: Vatican ends view Jews killed Christ-Hungary Jews
17.3.1998: Romania wants compensation from Russia for pact
17.3.1998: U.S. insurance team to inspect Holocaust documents

17.3.1998: New Zealand Racial Attacks Persist 16.3.1998: Regional poll finds French voters alienated
16.3.1998: Vatican document on Holocaust welcomed in Poland
16.3.1998: Focus-Vatican defends Pius XII, Jews unhappy
16.3.1998: FOCUS-Israeli threat to bar European peace role
16.3.1998: Latvian Nazi legion holds parade, Russia protests
15.3.1998: French National Front strengthened by regional poll
15.3.1998: FEATURE - Moscow slow in unveiling secrets of Soviet past
15.3.1998: FOCUS-Latvia SS men stage controversial reunion
13.3.1998: Swiss Holocaust fund readies $32 mln U.S. payment
13.3.1998: Local Russians demand stop to Latvia SS march
11.3.1998: 60 years on, Austria remembers its Nazi annexation
10.3.1998: France's Le Pen threatens rebellion
10.3.1998: Swiss government hopes Holocaust threats will end
9.3.1998: French far-right mayor gets suspended jail term
9.3.1998: Germany pays Nazi-hunters to check pensioners
9.3.1998: Israeli police catch rat after cat sparks manhunt
9.3.1998: FEATURE - Austria, Hitler's victim and accomplice
8.3.1998: Long history of uprising in Serbia's Kosovo region
8.3.1998: Israeli cat sparks manhunt
7.3.1998: Three Alleged Right-Wing Extremists Detained


Wiesenthal Centre wants France to check ex-Nazis
01:14 p.m Mar 18, 1998 Eastern

By Bernard Edinger

PARIS, March 18 (Reuters) - Nazi-hunters said on Wednesday they had asked France to check lists of French people receiving German war pensions to see if any were Nazi war criminals who Bonn wants to strike off the pensioners' roll.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said he had made the request to Jean-Maurice Ripert, diplomatic adviser to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

``There are 761 people in France who receive such pensions. Mr Ripert said the French government would look at the list and cooperate,'' Cooper told Reuters.

Ripert said he would pass the request to competent authorities.

German Labour Minister Norbert Bluem said earlier this month in Bonn he would allow Wiesenthal Center experts to use his ministry's archives to cross check the 33,137 pensions which Germany pays abroad.

The project follows lobbying by Jewish groups which led to Germany closing a loophole in the law last November under which war criminals abroad were able to draw disability pensions.

Altogether, some 437,000 veterans draw pensions for service during the Third Reich together with 559,000 dependants.

Controversy has brewed since it was learned the widow of Reinhart Heydrich, supreme chief of the Nazi SS corps, received a pension because her husband was killed by the Czech Resistance.

Cooper, accompanied to Ripert's office by Shimon Samuels, head of the Center's European office, said it was presumed most Frenchmen drawing German war pensions were from Alsace-Lorraine in eastern France and had been forcibly conscripted after Nazi Germany annexed their region.

About 130,000 Alsatians and Lorraine residents were conscripted and at least 40,000 were killed, mostly on the Russian front.

But officials at the French Veterans Affairs ministry said they did not believe any of the 761 people receiving German war pensions were from Alsace-Lorraine.

Germany had compensated them with lump sums under inter-government agreements and they received pensions from the French government since forcible recruitment made them fall under the category of war victims. He said thousands were involved.

The official said he believed the 761, whose names were not known to French authorities, were veterans of the Charlemagne Division of the Waffen SS or of the ``Legion of French Volunteers against Bolshevism'' (LVF), made up of French extreme-rightist volunteers who fought on the Russian front.

Cooper had also said Charlemagne veterans might be involved.

The 8,000-man French SS division was composed of fanatical Nazi sympathisers who were among the last defenders of Adolf Hitler's bunker as Russian forces conquered Berlin in 1945.

Those who survived were jailed in France after the war while several of their officers were executed.

Many Charlemagne troops were drawn from the hated Milice Francaise (French Militia) which hunted Resistance fighters and Jews before fleeing to Germany as the allies freed France.

Cooper said they could be struck from German pension rolls on the grounds the Milice ``violated the norms of humanity.''

Over 500 veterans of Latvia's Waffen-SS legion paraded through the Latvian capital Riga on Monday prompting a furious protest from Russia.

Cooper said cooperation from foreign states was patchy and Canada, where many East Europeans emigrated after World War Two, had proved singularly uncooperative.

Samuels said this month that, of the 11 countries that had received names of pensioners from Germany, only the United States and Britain had acted upon them.

The United States had found two war crime suspects on its list of 325 pensioners and payments to them had been stopped, Weisenthal Centre officials said. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Plaintiffs furious at sentence request for Papon
03:51 p.m Mar 19, 1998 Eastern

By Lee Yanowitch

BORDEAUX, France, March 19 (Reuters) - A state prosecutor asked a French court on Thursday to jail ex-Vichy official Maurice Papon for 20 years, infuriating civil plaintiffs' lawyers who said this would put him on the same level as a common criminal.

Many of the civil plaintiffs in the highly charged case had hoped the prosecution would demand a full life prison term, the norm for crimes against humanity.

They bitterly criticised the decision to seek a lesser sentence and urged the jury to disregard the prosecutor's request when they reach a verdict next week.

``(The request) puts crimes against humanity on an equal footing with a crime of passion or a simple bank robbery,'' said Alain Jakubowicz, a lawyer for Jewish organisations.

``I have faith that the jury will not accept this slap in the face by the French government and will give an equitable sentence -- life in prison.''

Papon, 87, is accused of crimes against humanity for ordering the arrest for deportation of 1,560 Jews, including 223 children, in 1942-1944 when he was secretary general of the Bordeaux region prefect's office and supervisor of its Service for Jewish Questions.

Prosecutor Henri Desclaux told the court in summing up that Papon had been vital to the Nazis in their plans to exterminate the Jews but he ``was neither the instigator, nor the man who came up with the idea.''

He said Papon had helped to draw up lists of Jews, signed arrest orders and supplied trains and para-military escorts to take Jews to a French transit camp before they were sent on to Auschwitz.

``He stayed in his office and with the mere stroke of his pen and a phone call committed the indescribable,'' said Desclaux.

But he and fellow-prosecutor Marc Robert argued that Papon deserved a lesser sentence because he was just one of several people who shared ``in a heirarchical chain of responsibility'' for the deportations. A verdict is expected on March 27.

Maverick lawyer Arno Klarsfeld, who angered many of his own clients by asking for a mitigated sentence in his final argument last week, said he was ``delighted that the prosecutor has taken my position.''

``I'm delighted because a man should be judged on the basis of his personal responsibility not on the basis of absolute justice which would lead to the life imprisonment of the ordinary policemen who arrested Jews,'' said Klarsfeld, the son of prominent Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld.

Klarsfeld, who represents relatives of Holocaust victims, had argued that Papon was not a blood-thirsty monster but only carried out German orders to succeed in his career. A sentence should stress the difference between men like him and the Nazis.

Outside the courthouse, protesters placed candles and flowers around signs bearing the names of children alleged to have been deported by Papon.

Many civil plaintiffs, tense and emotional after nearly six months of often painful testimony, also voiced disappointment.

``A child murder gets life in prison. Is there no relation between that and Papon, who killed 220 kids?'' said Maurice-David Matisson, a civil plaintiff who lost several relatives in the Holocaust.

Gerard Boulanger, the lawyer who first launched charges against Papon in 1981, was also angered by the decision not to request a life term.

``This is an attack against logic,'' he said. ``We are dealing with an indifferent, cold-blooded crime of self-interest. It is worse than a crime of passion. Hitler would never have succeeded with the Holocaust without men like Papon.''

Papon, who after the war went on to become chief of police in Paris and then budget minister, has argued that he did not know about the Nazi death camps and spent the war helping the Resistance and saving Jewish lives.

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French far-right mayor gets suspended jail term
11:06 a.m. Mar 09, 1998 Eastern

MARSEILLE, France, March 9 (Reuters) - An appeals court upheld on Monday a three-month suspended jail term and 50,000-franc ($8,150) fine passed on the far-right mayor of the southern French town of Vitrolles for making racist remarks in a newspaper interview.

The court rejected a state prosecutor's plea that mayor Catherine Megret, a member of Jean-Marie Le Pen's NationalFront, be barred from office for inciting racial discrimination in the interview with the German daily Berliner Zeitung.

It ordered Megret, whose husband Bruno Megret is the Front's deputy leader, to publish the verdict at her expense in various French newspapers and in the government gazette, the Official Bulletin.

In her recorded interview, given shortly after she was elected a year ago, Megret called immigrants ``colonialists'' and espoused racial inequality.

The suspended term keeps her out of jail, but under French law she would have to serve the three months should she repeat the offence. She has granted no media interviews since talking to the Berliner Zeitung.

Her deputy in Vitrolles, Hubert Fayard, said she would appeal to the supreme court (Cour de Cassation).

``It is not up to judges to decide what elected officials may or may not say,'' he told reporters.

Megret became the anti-immigrant party's fourth mayor in a 1996 by-election after her husband was disqualified from running because he exceeded the legal ceiling on campaign expenses.

A lower court found last September that she had violated a 1972 anti-racism law, but it tempered its verdict due to Megret's political inexperience.

The Front's mayors -- in Vitrolles, Toulon, Marignane and Orange -- are pursuing a common agenda, seeking to deprive left-leaning civic organisations of city funding, removing leftist publications from city libraries and giving a preference in city services to native-born French people.

The appeals court verdict came in the midst of the campaign for next Sunday's regional elections. Le Pen is running for president of the southern Provence-Alps-Riviera region where all four Front-controlled towns are located.

Opinion polls say the Front is unlikely to seize control of the region but will garner more votes than its national average of about 15 percent. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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France's Le Pen threatens rebellion
05:59 p.m Mar 10, 1998 Eastern

PARIS, March 10 (Reuters) - French far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen hinted that his supporters could rebel if a court barred him from public office on charges of assaulting a rival woman politician.

The leader of the anti-immigrant NationalFront told the daily Le Parisien in an interview to be published on Wednesday that such a sentence, requested by a state prosecutor last month, would mean his ``civil death.''

``This obviously carries a considerable risk as far as civil peace is concerned. It is an outrage to citizens who are supposed to freely choose their representatives,'' Le Pen said.

``If citizens are deprived of this right, the injustice they will feel could lead some of them to use...article two of the Declaration of Human Rights : 'resistance to oppression','' he said.

He did not elaborate or say what they would do.

A court in Versailles near Paris is to rule on April 2 on the prosecutor's recommendation to jail Le Pen for three months, strip him of his voting and civil rights for at least two years, and fine him 20,000 francs ($3,300).

Le Pen, a 69-year-old former paratrooper who polled 15 percent of the vote in the 1995 presidential election, went on trial on February 19, accused of manhandling Socialist election candidate Annette Peulvast while helping his daughter Caroline campaign for National Assembly elections last year.

Peulvast won the seat.

Le Pen was also accused of kicking two anti-Front protesters and calling another a ``faggot.''

He has denied any wrongdoing, insisting he was provoked.

Jail or ineligibility would be the most serious blow to date for Le Pen, who has been previously ordered to pay damages for such controversial remarks as declaring that gas chambers in Nazi death camps were just ``a detail'' in World War Two history.

But a chain of appeals would put the sentence in abeyance for months or even years. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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French National Front strengthened by regional poll
04:36 p.m Mar 15, 1998 Eastern

By Irwin Arieff

PARIS, March 15 (Reuters) - The far-right NationalFront, again embarrassing mainstream parties, attained its best score in its 26-year history in Sunday's regional elections, sealing its role as a force to be reckoned with in French politics.

Based on IPSOS and CSA projections, the Front scored between 15.4 and 15.9 percent in the regional poll, just below the 16 percent goal set for it by its fiery leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The results ``give us real joy, because the NationalFront has once again succeeded in moving forward,'' Le Pen said. He said the political mainstream was responsible for the record score because it had refused to take on his party in campaign debate.

While it won no regions outright, it finished a strong third in most, possibly giving it a kingmaker role in Friday's elections of regional presidents.

In addition, the Front was running neck and neck with the mainstream right in the crucial southern Provence-Alps-Riviera (PACA) region, where it has traditionally been strongest.

The mainstream parties had campaigned hard against the Front and predicted it would finish on weaker footing than in other recent national polls.

The Front's previous high score had been Le Pen's 15.2 percent in the 1995 presidential election. It scored 14.9 percent in last June's parliamentary elections.

The regional poll had been widely viewed as crucial to the future of the extreme-right party which advocates repatriating millions of even legal immigrants and rewriting the constitution to assure a preference in jobs, education and other state benefits to native-born French people.

The Front has been growing steadily in recent years.

But its leadership has divided recently over the role of Le Pen himself, who at 69 shows no signs of stepping down as leader of the party he founded in 1972.

Le Pen is now certain to take the latest election results as an endorsement of his leadership.

``The NationalFront this evening appears to be the sole national opposition force, the sole stable force,'' he boasted in a television interview on Sunday evening.

Le Pen, who seems to revel in controversy, has become enmeshed in several legal proceedings in recent months, triggering rare public criticism from some party loyalists who have grumbled that it might be time for a new leader, more interested in winning elections than splashy newspaper headlines.

He triggered outrage and lawsuits in France and Germany in December by saying in Munich that World War Two gas chambers were ``a mere detail of history.''

Le Pen had earned a heavy fine 11 years ago under anti-racism laws for a similar remark. He denies he is anti-Semitic or xenophobic, insisting he is simply misunderstood.

Separately, a verdict is due early next month on charges he assaulted a female Socialist parliamentary candidate while campaigning for his daughter in the Paris suburb of Mantes-la-Jolie just before the June 1 National Assembly election.

Le Pen hinted last week his supporters might rebel if the court found him guilty on the assault charge and barred him from public office as a result.

Finally, seven NationalFront veterans from the eastern Alsace region announced in January they were quitting the party in protest at Le Pen's leadership style. He responded by expelling them for ``treason and felony.''

Le Pen deputy Bruno Megret, who has made no secret of his desire to become the Front's next leader, has been among those publicly criticising Le Pen, saying his actions were driving away potential voters.

But Megret on Sunday evening had nothing but praise for the NationalFront leader. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Regional poll finds French voters alienated
09:14 a.m. Mar 16, 1998 Eastern

By Irwin Arieff

PARIS, March 16 (Reuters) - The low turnout and strong support for the far-right National Front in Sunday's regional elections show French voters feel increasingly alienated from mainstream parties, analysts said on Monday.

The trend could lead to political paralysis by making mainstream leaders shy away from bold action for fear of rejection by fickle as well as hostile voters, they said.

``If one counts the votes 'outside the system' -- those lost through abstention or cast for the National Front and the extreme left -- one reaches a total of almost 60 percent,'' the leftist daily Liberation noted in an editorial.

Excluding abstentionists and fringe voters left the mainstream parties collectively with the backing of only about four in 10 of eligible voters -- well short of a majority, the newspaper said.

``The winners were those 42 percent of voters who, in abstaining, showed the French people's growing lack of interest in politics and their clear refusal to give their approval to either the Right or the Left,'' said the financial daily Les Echos. ``Our institutions were the loser.''

In the last regional polls in 1992, 31 percent of those eligible failed to cast votes.

The National Front garnered 15.5 percent of the vote in Sunday's election, the highest score in its 26-year history and a sure sign of growing voter alienation, analysts said.

Both the governing Left and the opposition Right denounced the Front as a political outcast during the regional campaign.

But the Front's fiery leader Jean-Marie Le Pen argued there was no difference between the policies of the mainstream Right and Left and said neither would root out political corruption.

Abstention in Sunday's poll was ``above all the abstention of the urban poor in France,'' commentator Alain Duhamel said.

That likely reflected the frustration of those hardest hit by years of near-record unemployment, which stood at 12.1 percent in January, the last month for which statistics were available.

According to opinion polls, most French voters lack faith in the mainstream parties' ability to solve pressing problems like joblessness and crime or to root out political corruption.

Leftist as well as rightist fringe parties may also, to some extent, owe their strong showing in Sunday's poll to their anti-European stance.

Former interior minister Charles Pasqua, a top leader of the right-wing RPR, has repeatedly warned that mainstream parties must become more ``nationalistic'' rather than pro-European if they wish to win back the support of National Front voters.

``Any progress towards a more federal Europe is today blocked by the classic Right's dependence on National Front voters and the manoeuvres of Front leaders as well as on the anti-European sentiment of much of the so-called plural Left,'' said Sorbonne University professor Joseph Rovan, an expert in Franco-German relations, in a recently published essay.

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin described leftist gains in Sunday's poll as ``an encouragement'' for his government.

But Greens and Communists, coalition partners with Jospin's Socialists, insisted the poll was as much an endorsement of their go-slow approach on Europe as it was an embrace of Jospin's leadership.

Bolstering their claims was the relatively strong showing of the far-left Lutte Ouvriere party of Arlette Laguiller in some regions. Lutte Ouvriere and other, smaller far-left parties won 4.4 percent of the vote on Sunday.

Some Communist Party leaders said the score primarily reflected the desire of some Communist voters to show displeasure with their party's formal alliance with the Socialists.

``Of course, last June's mandate has been confirmed, which is a source of satisfaction for the prime minister,'' wrote the newspaper Liberation, referring to the Left's surprise victory in the general election nine months ago. ``But it is a very conditional confirmation.''

Some political leaders complained that French voters were becoming so fickle they were making it difficult for any government to carry out its programme.

With parliament bouncing between the Left and Right in recent elections, even a Margaret Thatcher, the iron-fisted former British prime minister, would have a hard time achieving her goals, they said. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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National Front still wants ``France first'' policy
05:53 a.m. Mar 18, 1998 Eastern

By Tom Heneghan

PARIS, March 18 (Reuters) - The far-right National Front made clear on Wednesday it maintained its controversial ``France for the French'' views despite a tactical turnaround meant to lure mainstream conservatives into local power deals.

Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose anti-foreigner party scored its best results ever in Sunday's regional polls, said he had to offer deals to support conservatives in electing regional council chairmen because the Front was still in the minority.

``If we were in the majority, we would apply the national preference,'' he told Europe 1 radio, referring to the ``French first'' policy that has made his party the pariah of French politics despite its 15 percent support among voters.

The question of whether to collaborate with the Front when the new regional councils meet on Friday evening to choose their chairmen now dominates the political debate in France.

Although the regional councils are little known with few powers, dubious deals cut there could seriously undermine efforts by the mainstream right to recover from its stunning defeat in the early general election last June.

The two mainstream conservative parties, the Rally for the Republic (RPR) and Union for French Democracy (UDF), on Tuesday flatly rejected the Front's offer to agree on a minimal platform of tax cuts and crime-fighting without the nationalist twist.

But in the rank and file of both parties, many local politicians are tempted to ignore the leaders in Paris and cut a deal to protect their seats and block a swing to the left.

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's coalition of Socialists, Communists and Greens advanced strongly in the 22 regions in Sunday's voting, but in many regions it has only a relative majority that a right-far right coalition could outvote.

``The majority of the French is right-wing,'' Le Pen said. ``We are preparing our contacts with the most intelligent and realistic people on the right who will join the common struggle when the RPR and the UDF have shown how rotten they are.''

On the left, the Socialists agreed not to even put up candidates on Friday in the six regions where the RPR/UDF came out as the biggest party.

Party first secretary Francois Hollande urged the right-wing parties to do the same in 10 regions where the National Front could cast the deciding votes to allow the right to win.

``If not, we will have won the elections last Sunday and then lost them the following Friday, without voters being able to do anything about it,'' he said.

Two well-known conservatives -- former RPR Prime Minister Edouard Balladur and UDF leader Francois Leotard -- have said they would not stand as their parties' candidates on Friday after losing to the left in their regions.

Staying out of the contest, which can go to three rounds of voting if the council cannot elect its president right away, is seen as the best way to avoid getting involved in any deals.

But a UDF leader following their example in the Center region told Le Figaro few of his partners there agreed with him.

``The line I defend is very much in the minority,'' Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres told the daily. ``For most of my colleagues in the regional council, the Front's conditions for a deal with the right are a way to save face. They tell me the right can't go on losing all the time.''

Analysts say France's fractured conservative camp must regroup somehow to avoid being squeezed by the Front on its right and the smoothly-operating united left. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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France's RPR seeks to halt split over extremists
05:34 p.m Mar 18, 1998 Eastern

By Crispian Balmer

PARIS, March 18 (Reuters) - France's centre-right Gaullist party expelled its former secretary-general on Wednesday as it tried to stifle grassroots calls for an alliance with the extremist National Front at a local level.

Jean-Francois Mancel was thrown out of the Rally for the Republic hours after he released an article which called for the need to forge links with the hardline, anti-immigrant National Front.

The mainstream centre-right parties, the RPR and Union for French Democracy (UDF), have a problem following last Sunday's regional elections, which left the Front holding the balance of power in a number of key regions.

Immediately after the poll, Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen invited the RPR and UDF to join forces with him to dilute nationwide gains made by the ruling leftist coalition.

Both parties warned their members to ignore the offer from the pariah of French politics, but their call has fallen on deaf ears in some quarters, including with RPR party stalwart Mancel, outgoing president of the Oise region north of Paris.

The RPR said in a statement its leader Philippe Seguin had decided to expel Mancel from the group because he had made ``certain condemnable moves.''

Two other less senior RPR officials were also banned from the group for making overtures to the National Front.

But even as the expulsions were announced, five RPR and rightist mayors from the southern Cote d'Azur, including the mayors of the glitzy Cannes and Nice resorts, released a statement indicating that they wanted their regional representatives to seek National Front backing.

The general-secretary of the Socialist party, Francois Hollande, called on conservative President Jacques Chirac to intervene within his RPR party.

``It should be said, most notably to his friends, that there are some limits which should not be overstepped,'' Hollande said.

Mancel, who resigned as RPR secretary-general last June in the wake of his party's crushing defeat by the left in national elections, said on Wednesday that he was amazed and saddened by the decision to bar him from the party.

``I am convinced that one cannot continue to block from the national political scene millions of men and women who like me share the same love of their country and the same attachment to human rights,'' he said in a statement.

The National Front took 15.5 percent in Sunday's regional vote, while the RPR and UDF won a combined 35.6 percent.

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's governing coalition of Socialists, Communists and Greens won 36.5 percent, topping the poll in more than half of France's 22 regions.

But it won an absolute majority in just one region, and alliances between the National Front and RPR/UDF could bar it from power in several places.

Le Pen told the RPR and UDF that if they accepted a six-point plan, including a freeze on taxation and more policing, then his party would vote for their candidates when the various councils meet this Friday to elect the regional presidents.

The six demands made no reference to the Front's controversial ``France for the French'' policy, which discriminates against immigrants.

Mancel said in an article published by Le Monde newspaper on Wednesday that conservative parties should listen to the Front.

``Our role is to integrate within one large political formation all those who feel they belong more to the right than the left,'' he said.

``I was one of the most pugnacious opponents of the National Front, but the moment that this strategy of war against the NF ended in complete stalemate, you would have to be mad to carry on with it,'' he wrote.

One UDF leader, Jacques Blanc from the Southern French region of Languedoc-Roussillon region, has also indicated that like Mancel he may accept Front support.

His comments brought withering scorn from the Bishop of Nimes. ``I call it prostitution,'' Bishop Jean Cadillac said. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Chirac urges French right to shun National Front
02:26 p.m Mar 19, 1998 Eastern

By Tom Heneghan

PARIS, March 19 (Reuters) - French President Jacques Chirac stepped into a heated debate over the rise of the National Front on Thursday, urging fellow conservatives not to make power deals with the extreme-right group.

Chirac's comments, the first he has made about last Sunday's regional elections which gave the Front an all-time high of 15.5 percent support, came after a day of mounting tension as leftist and rightist parties clashed over how to deal with the party.

They also contained a veiled swipe at the governing left-wing, which has been issuing increasingly dire warnings that local power deals between the mainstream right-wing and the anti-foreigner National Front would be a threat to French democracy.

Several right-wing leaders in the 22 regions are considering ignoring their parties' orders and accepting the votes of Front deputies to ensure their re-election when the new regional councils meet to choose their chairmen on Friday evening.

``One cannot make deals ... one cannot accept compromises,'' Chirac, whose own Rally for the Republic (RPR) has been badly split by the dispute, told reporters.

Taking a swipe at the left, with which he shares power in an uneasy ``cohabitation,'' the Gaullist leader added: ``It is not very wise to use these questions for party political polemics. That could be dangerous.''

France's regional councils have little power, but the votes for their chairmen could undermine the conservatives nationally if too many local politicians ignore the party leaders already weakened by their surprise general election defeat last year.

The National Front upped the ante this week with a tempting offer to re-elect right-wingers if they agree to help push through a few basic policies like tax cuts and crime-fighting.

It cleverly left out the anti-foreigner measures that have made the Front the pariah of French politics.

Jospin, whose Socialists have had a field day berating the RPR and its Union for French Democracy (UDF) over their real or supposed renegades, said any alliance with the National Front would threaten democracy and damage the country's image.

``I warn against groupings that undermine the purpose of universal suffrage and the will of the voters who are against alliances with the National Front,'' he said.

``If they (deals) were to occur tomorrow, this would be a danger for our democratic life and an attack on France's image in Europe and throughout the world.''

Clearly angry, RPR leader Philippe Seguin accused Jospin of hypocrisy in linking the Front to the RPR and UDF while ignoring the fact that left-wing candidates profitted from the Front's presence because it split the right-wing vote.

``Mr Jospin owes his majority to the decisions of the National Front's leadership,'' he fumed, referring to the Front's spoiler role in splitting the right in last year's general election.

``Let those who have, on a daily basis, taken responsibility for endangering democracy in our country ... look in the mirror.''

Jospin's brief statement followed a flurry of calls from several rightist politicians, including five mayors from southern towns such as Nice and Cannes, for deals with the National Front.

      The Gaullist RPR on Wednesday expelled its former secretary-general Jean-Francois Mancel for urging such deals and
calling the Front ``part of the conservatives of tomorrow.''

The National Front took 15.5 percent of the regional vote, the best result in its 26-year history. The RPR and UDF won a combined 35.6 percent while Jospin's governing coalition of Socialists, Communists and Greens won 36.5 percent.

Several national leaders on the right echoed Jospin's warning on Thursday, urging their supporters to turn their backs on the National Front on Friday.

``I have always, for moral as well as political reasons, been firmly opposed to any form of agreement or accommodation (with the National Front),'' former prime minister Alain Juppe told reporters in Bordeaux, where he is mayor.

``I do not see how we can maintain our credibility if we do today the opposite of what we said we would do,'' said top RPR leader Nicolas Sarkozy.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Jospin warns of far-right danger to France
08:52 a.m. Mar 19, 1998 Eastern

By Irwin Arieff

PARIS, March 19 (Reuters) - France's Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin warned the conservative opposition on Thursday that any alliance with the far-right National Front would threaten democracy and damage the country's image.

``I warn against groupings that undermine the purpose of universal suffrage and the will of the voters who are against alliances with the National Front,'' he told reporters gathered in the courtyard outside his offices.

``If they (deals) were to occur tomorrow, this would be a danger for our democratic life and an attack on France's image in Europe and throughout the world.''

Jospin's brief statement followed a flurry of calls from several rightist politicians for deals with the National Front ahead of Friday's voting for regional presidents by newly elected regional councils.

The conservative Rally for the Republic (RPR) on Wednesday expelled its former secretary-general Jean-Francois Mancel for urging deals at the local level between the National Front and the mainstream centre-right parties -- the RPR and Union for French Democracy (UDF).

National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose party holds the balance of power in several regional councils, has invited the mainstream right to join forces with him to dilute nationwide gains made by the ruling leftist coalition in last Sunday's regional elections.

Leaders of both the mainstream right and left pledged ahead of the elections not to hook up with the National Front in the voting for regional presidencies.

But the far-right party's strong showing in Sunday's poll has proved tempting for the right, which went into the elections controlling the presidency of 20 of mainland France's 22 regions and now stands to lose many of these.

The National Front took 15.5 percent of the regional vote, the best result in its 26-year history.

The RPR and UDF won a combined 35.6 percent while Jospin's governing coalition of Socialists, Communists and Greens won 36.5 percent.

Several national leaders on the right echoed Jospin's warning on Thursday, urging their supporters to turn their backs on the National Front on Friday.

``I have always, for moral as well as political reasons, been firmly opposed to any form of agreement or accommodation (with the National Front),'' former prime minister Alain Juppe told reporters in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, where he serves as mayor.

``I do not see how we can maintain our credibility if we do today the opposite of what we said we would do,'' said top RPR leader Nicolas Sarkozy.

RPR chairman Philippe Seguin went farther, accusing Jospin of hypocrisy in condemning any role for the National Front on the right while ignoring its impact on the left.

``Let those who have, on a daily basis, taken responsibility for endangering democracy in our country...look in the mirror,'' Seguin told a Paris news conference.

He said the left would win Friday's elections only because of the National Front>'s insistence on putting up its own candidates in each region where it was eligible to do so, splitting the vote on the right. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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FOCUS-French Right reels as extremists cut deals
05:13 p.m Mar 20, 1998 Eastern

By Tom Heneghan

PARIS, March 20 (Reuters) - France's battered conservatives collapsed into disarray on Friday as local party barons shattered a taboo and cut power deals with the extreme-right National Front, sending shockwaves through the political system.

``This has been a political earthquake. Nothing will ever be the same as before,'' Philippe Douste-Blazy, a member of the centrist Union for French Democracy (UDF) and a former cabinet minister, said on television.

National leaders of the UDF and its conservative partner the Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR) predicted the deals sealed by local rightists would condemn the mainstream Right to a long period of bitter division and drive away many voters.

``This dreadful convulsion was certainly inevitable and probably necessary. We now know the basis for a reconstitution of the republican opposition,'' RPR leader Philippe Seguin told a news conference.

General Charles de Gaulle, the French wartime leader and inspiration for the modern-day RPR founded by President Jacques Chirac, ``must be turning in his grave,'' remarked senior Socialist Jack Lang.

But National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen praised the deals as an expression of ``the rules of democracy'' that had helped to bring about ``the defeat of the Soci-Communists'' -- a reference to France's governing coalition of Socialists, Communists and Greens.

At issue on Friday were the presidencies of France's 22 mainland regions. The regional leadership posts are chosen by regional councils whose members were elected last Sunday.

Mainstream rightist candidates won six regional presidencies with the help of National Front votes, despite an earlier promise from the Right that no deals would be made with the far-right.

In another seven regions, rightists won the top post without National Front help. The governing Left won just three regions, far fewer than it thought it would secure.

The presidents of the remaining six mainland regions, including the key Paris area and the Provence-Riviera-Alps (PACA) region, were to be chosen at a later date.

As the deals emerged, the UDF looked hardest hit, with five regional council leaders, including ex-Defence Minister Charles Millon, defying party orders and winning reelection with help from the long-shunned Front.

The Gaullist RPR better withstood the siren calls from the far-right, but its only maverick winning with Front support, Josselin de Rohan in Brittany, was a prominent national figure as its Senate floor leader.

In at least two regions, the RPR ceded the contest to the Left rather than let their candidates run and risk winning with unwanted Front support.

UDF leader Francois Leotard, fighting for his political life in the Front stronghold of PACA, quickly suspended the newly elected regional presidents from his party who had defied his orders and secured election with Front support.

But party sources said other UDF leaders, especially free-marketeer Alain Madelin, strongly opposed the dramatic tactic.

To add to the confusion, another UDF leader elected with Front support, Jean-Francois Humbert in Franche-Comte, promptly stepped down, forcing another vote within the next month.

The RPR and UDF have been slipping since last June, when Chirac gambled away their four-fifths majority in the National Assembly for an early election unexpectedly won by the Left.

The Front, which changed tack this week to offer help to the centre-right rather than fight it, as it did in last year's legislative elections, claimed the deals had given it the breakthrough it sought for 15 years.

``We're entering the second phase in the growth of the National Front, which is now a party of government, a movement capable of assuming its responsibilities as an alternative to the socialo-communist Left,'' said Bruno Megret, the deputy front leader and chief strategist of the party's new power play.

The next major polls in France will be the 1999 European Parliament elections, followed by municipal polls in 2001 and presidential and parliamentary elections in 2002.

UDF founder Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who was French president from 1974 to 1981, easily won re-election in his Auvergne stronghold without Front support.

The National Front took 15.5 percent of Sunday's regional poll, the best result in its 26-year history. The RPR and UDF won a combined 35.6 percent while Jospin's governing coalition of Socialists, Communists and Greens won 36.5 percent. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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French press cry ``traitor'' after rightists defect
08:56 a.m. Mar 21, 1998 Eastern

By Tom Heneghan

PARIS, March 21 (Reuters) - Headlines screaming ``shame,'' ``traitors'' and ``tricksters'' dominated the French press on Saturday after five conservative politicians shattered a taboo by cutting local power deals with the far-right National Front.

The anti-foreigner Front's kingmaker role in the five regional council elections, commentators agreed, has changed the French political landscape and plunged the conservative camp into deep crisis.

``These casual renegades are knowingly opening the door to the aggressive heirs of (Philippe) Petain,'' said the left-wing Liberation daily, referring to the wartime Nazi collaborator.

``For the first time since the war, the unspoken rule making any pact with successors of the collaboration taboo has been broken,'' wrote Liberation, whose black front page carried the single-word headline ``Shame!'' and pictures of the five mavericks.

The Front, which changed tack this week to offer help to the centre-right rather than fight it, as it did in last year's legislative elections, claimed the deals had given it the breakthrough it sought for 15 years.

``We're entering the second phase in the growth of the National Front, which is now a party of government, a movement capable of assuming its responsibilities as an alternative to the socialo-communist left,'' Bruno Megret, the Front's deputy leader and chief strategist of the new power play, said on Friday.

Philippe Seguin, leader of the Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR), tried to limit damage to the collapsing right-wing by barring party members from leading roles in the five regional councils won by the renegades on Friday.

But his centrist allies, the Union for French Democracy (UDF), looked ready to split up after one of its leaders, free-marketeer Alain Madelin, congratulated the mavericks.

``The National Front has succeeded in breaking up the right,'' the popular daily France-Soir commented.

``You pinch yourself, rub your eyes and think you must be dreaming,'' the Marianne weekly wrote. ``But no, the unimaginable is true.''

Five local UDF leaders, including former defence minister Charles Millon, won election as regional council chairmen on Friday with National Front votes helping them beat the united left of Socialists, Communists and Greens.

This put the right at the head of 13 regions while the left, which emerged as the largest force in 12 of France's 22 regions in elections last Sunday, ended up with only three regional chairmen.

Corsica was due to elect its regional chairman on Sunday and four other regions are set to vote on Monday. The Franche-Comte region must restage its vote after the UDF winner stepped down on Friday because the Front had backed him.

UDF leader Francois Leotard suspended the five mavericks from his centrist alliance, which like the RPR had urged all its members to shun any pact with the Front.

But Leotard's own political future was in doubt over the weekend because his regional council in Provence-Alpes-Cotes d'Azur put off its final vote until Monday.

In the first two rounds of voting, Leotard ran neck-and-neck for second place with Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. At a caucus of his supporters, more than half said the mainstream right should accept Front votes to block a left-wing victory.

No matter what happens to Leotard, analysts said Madelin, whose Liberal Democracy party is part of the UDF, could hardly stay within that alliance.

In a statement on Friday, Madelin said: ``One should not be deaf, blind or passive in face of voters and councillors who do not understand why one should reject National Front votes.''

Le Monde newspaper delivered its verdict in a short headline: ``The death of the UDF.''

The Gaullist RPR survived the right's dismal day better than the UDF, holding the line against the far-right even if it meant losing to the Socialists in Aquitaine, home base for former prime minister Alain Juppe, a long-time Front critic.

The Front supported prominent RPR leader Josselin de Rohan in Brittany, but he won a majority there without their votes.

But worse was in store for the Gaullists on Monday, when an ex-RPR leader was expected to win with Front votes in Haute-Normandie and some embarrassing horse-trading could take place in the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France.

The four regional councils voting on Monday could be influenced by whichever signals emerge from a separate set of local polls being held in half of the country on Sunday.

The cantonal elections, normally a very local affair, will give French voters an unexpected chance to react to the political free-for-all on the right.

The next major polls in France will be the 1999 European Parliament elections, followed by municipal polls in 2001 and presidential and parliamentary elections in 2002. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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National Front boosts pressure on French right
02:14 p.m Mar 21, 1998 Eastern

By Tom Heneghan

PARIS, March 21 (Reuters) - The National Front, the anti-foreigner party that has plunged French conservatives into disarray, stepped up pressure on the mainstream right on Saturday by demanding its help to win a regional power base.

Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, now a kingmaker after 15 years as the pariah of French politics, said the conservatives should support his bid to become chairman of the southern region of Provence-Alpes-Cotes d'Azur (PACA).

The Front scored a major coup on Friday when right-wing barons in five of France's 22 regions ignored party orders and accepted support from its councillors to win election as chairmen of their regional councils against the united left.

This triggered a political earthquake on the right. The renegades were suspended and one major party, the Union for French Democracy (UDF), looked set to crack up.

At least one regional chairman resigned from the Rally for the Republic (RPR), President Jacques Chirac's Gaullist party, rather than reject the Front votes needed for reelection.

``In the interest of justice and democracy, the National Front expects regional councillors of the RPR and UDF in PACA to take a similar stand of national discipline against the socialo-communists that the National Front took in other regions for RPR/UDR candidates,'' a statement from Le Pen's office said.

Le Pen said he won more votes in last Sunday's regional poll in PACA than the joint candidate of the mainstream right, UDF chief Francois Leotard.

He and Leotard were tied for second place in two rounds of voting for PACA chairman on Friday. The left was in the lead but without a majority.

The PACA council was due to hold a final vote on Monday and reports from Marseille, the region's capital, said many conservatives were abandoning Leotard and arguing for an alliance with the Front to head off a left-wing victory.

The Front suddenly announced last Monday it would no longer fight the mainstream right but help it to power if it agreed to a minimal programme of tax cuts, crime fighting and measures to protect French culture.

It did not mention planks of its party platform that other parties see as racist and a block to any co-operation.

Headlines screaming ``shame,'' ``traitors'' and ``tricksters'' dominated French press accounts reporting how local leaders shattered a long-standing taboo against any deals with the Front, which won 15.5 percent of the vote last Sunday.

Pressure mounted on the best-known renegade, former defence minister Charles Millon. Several hundred marchers protested in Lyon and local politicians and Jewish leaders urged him to quit.

``For the first time since the war, the unspoken rule making any pact with successors of the collaboration taboo has been broken,'' wrote the daily Liberation, whose black front page carried the simple headline ``Shame!''

``The National Front has succeeded in breaking up the right,'' the popular daily France-Soir commented.

The Front claimed it had made the breakthrough it had sought for 15 years. ``We're entering the second phase in the growth of the National Front, which is now a party of government,'' deputy leader Bruno Megret said on Friday.

Philippe Seguin, leader of the Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR), tried to limit damage to the collapsing right-wing by barring party members from leading roles in the five regional councils won by the renegades.

The local deals put the right at the head of 13 regions while the ``plural left'' of Socialists, Communists and Greens, which emerged as the largest force in 12 of the 22 regions last Sunday, ended up governing only three regions.

Corsica was due to elect its regional chairman on Sunday and four regions were set to vote on Monday. The Franche-Comte region must restage its vote after the UDF winner stepped down because the Front had backed him.

The four regions voting on Monday could be influenced by whatever signals emerge from a separate set of local polls being held in half of the country on Sunday.

The cantonal elections, normally a very local affair, will give voters an unexpected chance to react to the political confusion on the right.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Swiss Holocaust fund readies $32 mln U.S. payment
07:05 a.m. Mar 13, 1998 Eastern

BERNE, March 13 (Reuters) - Needy Holocaust survivors in the United States are likely to receive $32.4 million from a Swiss fund for victims of the Nazis, a fund spokeswoman said on Friday.

The spokewoman said recent discussions by the board of the Swiss Holocaust Fund had focused on this figure. ``Things are indeed going in this direction,'' she added.

Fund administrators plan to establish a U.S. contact office in April to receive applications from survivors, and then to work out a timetable for payments, she said.

The 280 million Swiss franc ($188.5 million) fund was set up by banks and businesses last year to help counter allegations that Switzerland used its neutrality to profit from World War Two. It describes its payments as humanitarian assistance, not compensation.

The fund has already started distributing funds to Holocaust victims in eastern and central Europe. Its first payments to gypsies who survived the Holocaust are scheduled to start next week.

Fund president Rolf Bloch told a news conference in January that there were an estimated 150,000 Holocaust survivors in the United States, and that the fund expected to receive between 50,000 and 80,000 applications from them.

($ - 1.485 Swiss Francs) REUTERS

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Swiss government hopes Holocaust threats will end
02:22 p.m Mar 10, 1998 Eastern

ZURICH, March 10 (Reuters) - The Swiss government hopes U.S. states and cities will drop threats of boycotts against Swiss banks over the handling of Holocaust victims' dormant accounts, Interior Minister Ruth Dreifuss told parliament on Tuesday.

Dreifuss said political sanctions against Swiss banks would violate free trade principles supported by the United States in the global General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

``We hope the conference of city and state financial officers ends with a decision to drop the threat of sanctions,'' Dreifuss told parliament in Berne.

A steering committee of U.S. city and state finance officers will meet on March 26 to decide whether to support boycotts against Swiss banks.

The meeting comes near the end on March 31 of a three-month moratorium on sanctions agreed by around 200 city and state finance officials to allow Swiss banks to prove they are trying to return the assets of Holocaust victims to their owners or heirs.

Dreifuss said the Swiss government was confident the U.S. federal government shared its view that sanctions would violate the free trade pact for services.

``We are convinced that U.S. (federal) authorities share our analysis and that they support the Swiss call that no sanctions be imposed,'' she said.

``But as you know, sanctions can be decided on independently by U.S. cities and states,'' Dreifuss added.

U.S. Under-secretary of State Stuart Eizenstat has urged the states and cities to drop sanction threats and praised Swiss measures to probe the wartime past and return dormant accounts.

A top Swiss banker in the United States last week told the Swiss news magazine Facts that he thought the threat of boycotts was over.

``The Swiss banks and the Swiss government have shown flexibility. A lot of positive signals have been sent,'' the magazine quoted Richard Capone, head of Union Bank of Switzerland operations in the Americas, as saying.

Under pressure from Jewish critics led by the World Jewish Congress (WJC), Swiss banks have launched a large-scale sweep of their records by independent auditors and in cooperation with the WJC.

The search is aimed at finding dormant accounts left by Holocaust victims and returning them to survivors or their heirs. ^[email protected]

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Swiss Holocaust fund starts payments to gypsies
12:00 p.m. Mar 18, 1998 Eastern

By Felix Bauer

SINGEN, Germany, March 18 (Reuters) - More than half a century after their wartime ordeal, gypsies who survived Nazi slaughter during World War Two started getting payments from Switzerland's Holocaust memorial fund on Wednesday.

At a ceremony in southern Germany, officials from the 280 million Swiss franc humanitarian fund presented symbolic payments of 2,420 marks each to three gypsies who were thrown into concentration camps in their youth.

They represented around 40 more gypsies set to get money in the next few days.

Thousands more gypsies have filed claims to the fund, set up by Swiss banks and businesses last year to counter accusations the Swiss coolly profited from the war.

It distributes funds to needy Holocaust victims and their heirs. Most recipients so far have been Jews in eastern and central Europe.

``We would like to tell you that we in Switzerland have not forgotten the victims of the Holocaust,'' said fund president Rolf Bloch, head of the Swiss Jewish Federation, but he made clear the payments were humanitarian aid, not compensation.

Robert Huber, head of a Swiss-based umbrella organisation representing Europe's 14 million gypsies and a member of the fund's advisory board, brought the money in cash that he took from a small suitcase.

``I feel bad about the whole thing,'' Huber, who wears an earring in the shape of a wheel, said before the ceremony.

``I don't know what I can say to the victims. The money is just a drop in the bucket, but lots of drops somehow produce a large amount.''

One of the recipients was Josef Lehmann, 61, who said he spent much of the war in Poland running from the Nazis. He eventually made it to Switzerland, but was expelled and had to hide in the woods from his oppressors.

``It is nice of Switzerland to do this,'' he said, but added: ``Money cannot make right what happened then, even if it were a lot more. Gypsies are still persecuted and are not recognised anywhere.''

Lehmann, a balding man with a quiet voice, lives in Singen now but still occasionally hits the road to roam as his kin have done for centuries.

Their rambling ways made them a target of Nazi Germany's drive to exterminate people deemed unworthy to live. Estimates of how many gypsies died at the hands of the Germans and their allies during World War Two range from 50,000 to half a million.

Gypsies were uniquely vulnerable to Nazi persecution since they carried their wealth around with them largely in the form of coins and jewellery.

The nomadic gypsies of western Europe were largely illiterate and did not have bank accounts, while long-standing prejudices and racial laws aimed at the sedentary gypsies of eastern Europe gave them little access to the banking system.

Ernst Wagner, another recipient, was three years old when his mother was expelled from Switzerland during the war and sent to the Auschwitz death camp, where she was gassed, he said.

His father survived Auschwitz. Wagner escaped with his grandmother, the dark-skinned, moustachioed man with grey hair said as he sat, shaking nervously, at a table with his wife and three children.

``With this money, even if it is only a little, Switzerland now wants to say its sorry,'' said Wagner, who like Lehmann got a small amount of compensation from Germany.

``But other people, Jews and so on, got completely different amounts,'' he complained.

``Sometimes I am happy that you don't see or hear anything of the past. Now everything is being stirred up again.''

Under international pressure, Swiss commercial banks launched the memorial fund to help counter allegations that they cynically profited from World War Two and stonewalled Holocaust survivors or their heirs seeking to get back deposits.

The Swiss National Bank, which acknowledges buying tonnes of gold from Nazi Germany even after it became clear some may have been looted from conquered lands and people, also contributed to the fund, as did private businesses.

The Swiss government has ruled out contributing taxpayers' money to the fund. The fund intends to start helping survivors in the United States within the next few months. REUTERS

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Swiss plan no boycott of U.S. telecoms bidders
09:03 a.m. Mar 20, 1998 Eastern

By Marcus Kabel

ZURICH, Switzerland (Reuters) - The Swiss government has no plans to discriminate against two U.S. companies bidding for mobile phone licenses, despite a parliamentary call for a possible political boycott, officials said Friday.

The ministry in charge of the Swiss telecommunications agency Bakom, which is weighing bids from six international groups for two licenses to operate new national mobile phone networks, said it had taken note of the boycott calls.

Members of parliament from one government party have urged Berne to consider launching counter-sanctions if U.S. city and state governments decide next week to proceed with a threatened boycott of Swiss banks over Holocaust accounts.

They named new licenses for mobile phone operators as one area where the government could punish U.S. companies.

``There are absolutely no efforts in this direction at the moment,'' Ulrich Sieber, spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation, Communications and Energy, told Reuters.

U.S. companies AirTouch Communications Inc. and SBC Communications Inc. are partners in two of the six consortia applying for licenses to operate new mobile phone networks. The licenses are expected to be awarded next month.

``This is a sign of the sentiment in parliament,'' Sieber said about the sanctions calls from the pro-business Radical Democrats (FDP), one of four parties in the center-right government coalition.

``But whether this actually has any political consequences at the highest level in Switzerland is a completely different question.''

A steering committee of U.S. local public financial officers will meet in New York next Thursday to decide whether to impose sanctions against Swiss banks over Jewish claims that the banks were withholding assets left by victims of the Holocaust.

Swiss officials have argued that both Switzerland and the United States are barred from imposing political boycotts against foreign companies by world free trade rules.

In the telecommunications sector, Switzerland has signed a World Trade Organization (WTO) pact that came into effect last month, ensuring free cross-border access to markets without discrimination.

``This is an agreement that we are bound to and we cannot exempt ourselves from it with boycott measures,'' said Peter Fischer, deputy director of the Bakom telecommunications agency.

Fischer said there had been no slow-down in the process of awarding the mobile phone licenses, which will be decided by a government commission advised by Bakom.

``Everything is running according to schedule. We still expect to announce the result in the course of this spring and possibly in April,'' he told Reuters.

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Swiss may retaliate if U.S. boycotts banks
08:11 a.m. Mar 19, 1998 Eastern

By Marcus Kabel

ZURICH, March 19 (Reuters) - Any boycott against Swiss banks by U.S. city and state governments over Holocaust claims could prompt Switzerland to retaliate with sanctions of its own, Swiss officials said on Thursday.

The Swiss government's special envoy for Holocaust issues, Thomas Borer, said he was cautiously optimistic that U.S. local finance officers meeting next week would decide not to impose sanctions against Swiss banks.

Borer said the possibility of Swiss sanctions was one of the reasons he believed a committee of five U.S. financial controllers was less likely to urge a Swiss bank boycott when they meet in New York on March 26.

``You have to understand that the controllers are aware that there could be countermeasures in Switzerland,'' Borer told Reuters in an interview.

The head of a Swiss government coalition party said Berne should consider punishing U.S. companies if financial controllers from cities and states decide to bar business with Swiss banks, as California's treasurer again last week threatened to do.

``There are various possibilities for such (retaliatory) measures,'' Franz Steinegger, president of the Radical Democratic Party (FDP), told the mass-circulation newspaper Blick.

``There are defence contracts like the airspace surveillance system or licences for mobile telephone networks,'' said Steinegger, whose pro-business FDP is one of four parties in the centre-right government coalition.

He was apparently referring to a $323 million order for an air surveillance system the government decided last December to place with a consortium of Hughes Aircraft Corp (RTN.N) of the United States and France's Thomson-CSF (TCFP.PA).

Two U.S. companies -- AirTouch Communications Inc (ATI.N) and SBC Communications Inc (SNB.N) -- are among six consortia that have applied for two licences to operate new mobile phone networks. The licences are set to be awarded next month.

The FDP group in parliament this week asked the government to say whether it was prepared to consider retaliatory sanctions against U.S. businesses if Swiss banks are hit by boycotts.

``The Federal Council will have to judge the situation at the appropriate time,'' Borer said about the FDP query.

``At the moment we have not been confronted with sanctions and we are cautiously optimistic that none will be levied (against Swiss banks),'' he said.

The steering group of officials meeting next week represents about 200 U.S. public finance officers, who gathered in New York in December to decide how to address Jewish claims that Swiss banks were witholding assets left by victims of the Holocaust.

The December meeting agreed to put off any boycotts until March 31 to see how Swiss efforts in settling Jewish claims progress.

``Since then we have made more progress. We are fulfilling the promises we made,'' Borer said.

``Therefore there is no rational reason for sanctions.''

Borer cited a sweeping audit of Swiss bank accounts that has been started by independent experts under the aegis of the World Jewish Congress and Swiss banks. Former U.S. central bank chairman Paul Volcker heads the panel.

A 280 million Swiss franc humanitarian fund launched by Swiss banks and businesses to aid needy Holocaust victims has also begun payments to survivors in eastern Europe and will start soon in the United States, Borer added.

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Chances slim for quick Swiss Holocaust settlement
07:43 a.m. Mar 20, 1998 Eastern

By Michael Shields

ZURICH, March 20 (Reuters) - Swiss banks are unlikely to agree to a quick global settlement of Holocaust victims' claims despite the prospect of U.S. boycotts as soon as next month, Swiss sources familiar with the discussions said on Friday.

Banks are ready in principle to settle the claims, but the thorny issue of ensuring a payoff ends their public relations nightmare once and for all has prevented negotiators clinching a deal thus far, they said.

The sources, who spoke on condition they not be identified, said banks were in active talks to settle claims that they profited from the Holocaust, but that the sheer number of rival claimants made it difficult to wrap up a comprehensive accord.

``There is movement in the sense that meetings are taking place more frequently,'' mostly among lawyers but also with top bankers involved, one source said.

``The banks are ready (to settle) if a reasonable solution can be found. The problem is: What is a reasonable solution?''

He would not confirm a report in the Weltwoche newspaper that Swiss banks were ready to pay up to $1 billion to resolve the issue, and poured cold water on the prospect that a deal could be done by the end of this month.

``That would hardly work,'' he said.

New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who leads a steering committee of U.S. public finance officials considering boycotts of Swiss banks, said on Thursday he had urged the banks to reach a global settlement by March 31.

A three-month moratorium on new sanctions ends then, and officials are set to meet next week to discuss how to proceed in their campaign to keep up the pressure on Swiss banks.

Holocaust victims are suing the big banks for billions of dollars in a U.S. federal court, alleging the banks withheld money that their family members had deposited in neutral Switzerland to hide their wealth from the Nazis.

The World Jewish Congress has also pressed banks to come up with billions to settle Holocaust claims, but has not presented a united front with individual claimants to negotiate a payment.

``We are getting closer to a constructive solution, but there are still a lot of parties to the matter,'' one top banker said.

Big banks last year contributed 100 million Swiss francs to a Holocaust memorial fund for needy victims.

Banks would consider putting up more money if this would guarantee ending the problem once and for all, the banker said.

The problem is explaining this hard-headed business approach, common in the United States for settling class-action suits, to shareholders immersed in the European culture of arguing the merits of your case in the courts, he said.

Banks also don't want to be accused of setting a precedent that could be used to pressure, for example, Swiss insurance companies accused of failing to pay out policies to Holocaust victims or industrial companies alleged to have profited from slave labour in Germany during the war.

``The biggest problem is to know whom to settle with,'' one banker said. ``The second problem is that we still think that we initiated important activity to try to solve this very big problem of the role of Switzerland during the war.''

An independent panel headed by former U.S. central bank chief Paul Volcker is now combing banks' books for any dormant Holocaust-era accounts that might have escaped earlier searches. Banks have published the names of people who had such accounts.

An international historians' panel is also reviewing the Swiss role in the war amid accusations Switzerland used its political neutrality to profit cynically.

Settling claims before these efforts conclude opens the banks to accusations they are buying their way out of the problem before the full truth can be revealed, bankers say.

``We think we should bring all these activities to a good end. We should do that and not stop them. This is fundamental,'' the banker added.

``But meanwhile there are all kinds of discussions about how to proceed, how to find a quicker solution on the whole.'' REUTERS


Canadian ultra-right gathering sparks controversy
10:27 p.m. Mar 20, 1998 Eastern

By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, March 20 (Reuters) - Officials in the British Columbia town of Oliver moved on Friday to pull the plug on a meeting of Canadian ultra-right activists, but the gathering's organizers seemed undeterred.

Bernard Klatt contended the gathering he planned to present on Saturday was to promote free speech, but critics argued the real goal was to foster hate and it was timed to coincide with the United Nations' International Day to Eliminate Racism.

Officials in the small town 175 miles (280 km) east of Vancouver near the U.S. border voted to block Klatt's use of the community center, citing police concern that violence might break out -- possibly from anti-racism activists trying to disrupt the meeting.

Klatt, who communicates with reporters via electronic mail, scheduled a news conference for Saturday afternoon outside the Oliver Town Hall at which he said a new location for the meeting would be announced.

Even before the town's move, the planned gathering drew attention from law enforcement officials.

``We are certainly monitoring the matter and the event. ... No one should believe they are beyond the reach of the law,'' British Columbia's Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh said.

Klatt has sparked international controversy as an Internet provider for more than a dozen groups promoting everything from white supremacy to anti-Semitism and independence for western Canada.

French police last month arrested 13 people connected with an allegedly racist Web site that operated through the computers of Klatt's Oliver-based firm, Fairview Technology Centre Ltd.

The Web site, under the banner of the Charlemagne Hammer Skinheads, allegedly contained death threats, including one against British playwright Julia Pascal, according to a report in Canada's Globe & Mail newspaper.

To counter what he sees as a coordinated attack by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which researches Nazi crimes, and by the news media, Klatt had planned to act as host of a gathering featuring presentations by some of Canada's better-known ultra-right activists.

Klatt advertised the event on the Internet but admitted this week he did not know how many supporters would show up.

``I've been told that the negative publicity will scare most of the people away, so maybe only 10 people will show. Others suggest that the publicity will attract people, so maybe 100 people will show,'' Klatt told Reuters.

Among the scheduled speakers was lawyer Doug Christie, who in court has represented people who deny the Holocaust took place, and Paul Fromm, a former Ontario teacher who wants only English-speaking, white Christians to be allowed to move to Canada.

The dispute left Klatt's neighbors caught in the middle.

They were angry when a Simon Wiesenthal Center official called Oliver the ``Hate Capital of Canada,'' and Oliver's mayor complained to a reporter Klatt's opponents were ``as zealous'' as the people they were angry at.

But town officials have circulated a petition asking provincial authorities to take legal action against Internet sites that promote racism, are anti-Semitic or deny the Holocaust. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Three Alleged Right-Wing Extremists Detained
08:26 a.m. Mar 07, 1998 Eastern

ST. LOUIS, Ill. (Reuters) - Three members of an extremist right-wing group, allegedly planning to rob banks and attack the Simon Wiesenthal Center and other institutions, were ordered detained Friday on charges of illegal possession of firearms, the FBI said.

It said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, W. Charles Grace, ordered the detention of the three men on charges of conspiracy to receive and possess unregistered firearms and to make illegal firearms after hearing evidence they had planned to rob banks and armored cars and had targeted specific persons and institutions for violence.

Detained were Dennis Michael McGiffen, 35, of Wood River, Ill., Wallace Scott Weicherding, 64, of Salem, Ill., and Ralph P. Bock, 27, of Brighton, Ill.

``Evidence presented in the hearing indicated that the defendants belonged to a group called 'The New Order' which was being formed in the likeness of the original 'Order,' a domestic terrorism group,'' the FBI said in a news statement.

The group's targets included the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Wiesenthal Center, an institution for studies and research into the holocaust. The FBI said the suspects were arrested on Feb. 23 after a search of their premises uncovered a machine gun, a pipe bomb, grenade components, large amounts of smokeless black powder, a sawed-off shotgun and numerous other weapons.

Trial for the three has been set for April 27.

If found guilty the three could be sentenced to up to five years in jail and fined $250,000.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Vatican document on Holocaust welcomed in Poland
01:47 p.m Mar 16, 1998 Eastern

By Anthony Barker

WARSAW, March 16 (Reuters) - A leader of Poland's Jewish community welcomed a Vatican document on Monday apologising for Catholics who failed to do enough to help Jews during the Holocaust, but saw it as a call for further reflection.

``I think this is an important document as it forcefully states that the issue of the (wartime) extermination of the Jews is a challenge for Christianity and for Europe,'' said Stanislaw Krajewski, a board member of the tiny Union of Jewish Communities in Poland.

Nazi German invaders during World War Two murdered most of Poland's 3.5 million Jews, as well as many brought from other countries, in huge extermination camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau which they built on Polish soil.

Krajewski said the Vatican document broached difficult subjects such as the Allies' actions during the Holocaust, but did not explore them fully -- for example Allied reluctance to widely publicise what was happening to Europe's Jews.

He also said it did not fully deal with the failure of the Catholic Church as a whole, and of the then Pope Pius Xll, to loudly and openly condemn what they knew was happening.

The Vatican document, strongly condemning anti-Semitism, defended the wartime Pope from accusations he turned a blind eye to the Holocaust.

``Undoubtedly, many people in the Church helped Jews, including Pope Pius Xll, but quietly. The Church as an institution did not make a loud gesture that the victims might have been aware of,'' Krajewski said.

``Maybe it would not have helped much...but the victims did not have the feeling that someone was thinking of them with sympathy, because no one said it out loud,'' Krajewski said, referring to the sense of abandonment with which millions of Jews went to their deaths in gas chambers and burial pits.

He said the document also did not fully explain why such a statement had not been made 50 years ago, right after the war.

``This document opens the way for reflection on all these problems, including the most difficult, but does not close thinking on it,'' Krajewski said.

``It says: 'We invite all men and women of good will to reflect deeply on the significance of the Shoah','' said Krajewski, co-chairman of Poland's Council of Christians and Jews.

The subject of the document entitled ``We Remember, a Reflection on the Shoah,'' is especially sensitive in Poland because of strong views among some Jews that Catholic Poles did too little to help those being murdered in their midst.

Polish commentators point out that only in Poland, which fiercely resisted Nazi occupation and suffered terribly, were those people helping Jews automatically punished by death. Even so, several thousand Poles have been honoured by Israel's Yad Vashem Institute for risking their lives to help.

But there were also cases of Catholic Poles betraying, exploiting or killing Jews during the war, while others showed apparent indifference.

Stefan Niesiolowski, a leader of the Christian National Alliance, a pro-Church party in Poland's ruling coalition, supported the Vatican document, while also underlining the lack of action on the Holocaust by the Western Allies.

``The Church did a great deal, but one can always say that many Christians certainly did not do enough, many did nothing, many betrayed Christ's teachings,'' he told PAP news agency.

He said that in the debate on wartime behaviour there were people on both sides who did not want reconciliation and truth.

``For these, this document will not change anything. But for many people it is necessary,'' he told the Polish agency.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Focus-Vatican defends Pius XII, Jews unhappy
01:14 p.m Mar 16, 1998 Eastern

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY, March 16 (Reuters) - The Vatican apologised on Monday for Catholics who failed to do enough to help Jews against Nazi persecution but defended wartime Pope Pius XII from accusations he turned a blind eye to the Holocaust.

Jews expressed dissatisfaction with the landmark document entitled ``We Remember, a Reflection on the Shoah.'' Some said it was too little, too late.

The document decried the ``unspeakable tragedy ... of the killing of millions of Jews'' and said Christians had a moral duty to ensure it never happened again.

The document clearly defended Pope Pius from accusations by some Jews he did not do everything in his power to help them.

``During and after the war, Jewish communities and Jewish leaders expressed their thanks for all that had been done for them, including what Pope Pius XII did personally or through his representatives to save hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives,'' it said.

Vatican historians say Pius did not speak out more forcefully for fear of worsening the situation for Catholics, as well as Jews, in Germany and Nazi occupied countries.

While Jews welcomed the document's strong condemnation of anti-Semitism, they said it failed to account adequately for the role of Catholic teachings in spawning it and criticised its defence of Pius XII.

``The blurriness of part of the Church on the eve of and during the Holocaust, and mainly its plastering over of the part of who then headed the Church, Pius XII, is not yet acceptable to us,'' said Israel's Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau.

``I don't think that we can't talk about rectifying the past without pointing at who ... didn't do anything to save what it was possible to save,'' he told reporters.

Cardinal Edward Cassidy, the Australian head of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, told a news conference he did not know whether the case of Pius XII would be taken up again in the future.

But he said the Church was satisfied that its own historians had studied the period thoroughly and ``their conclusion would be very strongly that Pius XII does not have a case to answer.''

He said the document was ``more than an apology'' to the Jews.

``This is an act of repentance. This is more than an apology since as members of the Church we are linked to the sins as well as to the merits of all her children,'' he said.

``We feel that we have to repent. Not only for what we may have done individually but also for those members of our Church who failed in this regard,'' he added.

Rabbi James Rudin, inter-religious affairs director of the New York-based American Jewish Committee, said: ``I would say it represents the three ``Rs'' -- remembrance, repentance and resolve ... and it's a very strong denunciation of anti-Semitism.''

In Jerusalem, Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre that researches Nazi crimes, said the statemment was ``far less'' than what he had hoped for.

``I think that while acknowledging the enormity of the tragedy is important, there is a need for an unequivocal acknowledging of the role played by the Church's teaching in anti-Semitism that paved the way for the crimes of the Holocaust,'' he told Reuters.

Rudin called for ``a full exploration by Catholic and Jewish scholars, of the wartime period.''

In Jerusalem, Yitzhak Minerbi, a scholar on relations with the Vatican said: ``I found it to be first of all an attempt to safeguard the memory of Pope Pius XII, who throughout World War Two never condemned the Nazi persecution of Jews.''

The document also defended some members of the German Church hierarchy during the war, saying they had criticised Nazism.

The document said that while many Christians helped the Jews when they were persecuted ``others did not.'' Many people during the war were ``altogether unaware of the 'final solution' that was being put into effect against a whole people.''

In the document's brief introduction, Pope John Paul said the Holocaust would forever remain an ``indelible stain'' on the 20th century and urged Christians to ``examine themselves for the responsibility which they too have for the evils of our time.''

The Pope, who has made improving relations with Jews a major aim of his 20-year-old papacy, said he hoped the document would ``help to heal the wounds of past misunderstandings and injustices.''

He added: ``May it enable memory to play its necessary part in the process of shaping a future in which the unspeakable iniquity of the Shoah will never again be possible.''

The document made a distinction between anti-Judaism practised by some Christians through the ages and 20th century anti-Semitism, particularly as practised under the Nazis.

``The Shoah was the work of a thoroughly modern neo-pagan regime. Its anti-Semitism had it roots outside of Christianity and, in pursuing its aims, it did not hesitate to oppose the Church and persecute her members also,'' it said. REUTERS

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Vatican ends view Jews killed Christ-Hungary Jews
05:34 a.m. Mar 17, 1998 Eastern

BUDAPEST, March 17 (Reuters) - Jewish leaders in Hungary have welcomed the Vatican's statement on the Holocaust, saying it finally broke with the view that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ.

Peter Feldmajer, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (FJCH), told the Hungarian news agency MTI late on Monday he believed the statement ``unambiguously and clearly'' admits that ``theologically motivated anti-Semitism...was among the causes of the Holocaust.''

Hungary's Jewish community, estimated to number up to 130,000, is by far the largest in Eastern Europe, mainly because World War Two Nazi deportations started later than elsewhere.

``Due to a misinterpretation of the New Testament, it was taught (for centuries) that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, which orientated people in a wrong direction,'' Feldmajer added.

``The church has now publicly broken with this view and condemned anti-Semitism. This step will obviously improve relations between Catholics and Jews.''

The Vatican's apology on Monday for the failure of some Catholics to help save millions of Jews from Nazi death camps drew criticism from Jewish groups and leaders for not going far enough.

The landmark document entitled ``We Remember, a Reflection on the Shoah,'' lamented the tragedy of the genocide and said Christians had a moral duty to ensure it never happened again.

The defence of the World War Two pope, Pius XII, in the document was dismissed by some Jewish leaders and academics as an attempt to safeguard the memory of the pontiff.

Vatican historians maintain that Pius XII, who was pontiff from 1939 until his death in 1958, purposely did not speak out against Nazism in order to save Roman Catholics, as well as Jews, from further retribution in Germany and other Nazi-occupied countries.

Last month more than 4,000 elderly Hungarian Holocaust survivors out of an eligible 19,000 were paid a first instalment from a $280 million Swiss bank fund for Holocaust survivors. REUTERS

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Rabbis See Vatican Text as Good First Step
04:48 p.m Mar 18, 1998 Eastern

By Nigel Stephenson

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Leading European rabbis said Wednesday that a Vatican declaration on the Holocaust was a good first step but disappointing in its silence on centuries of oppression of Jews.

The standing committee of the Conference of European Rabbis considered the landmark Vatican declaration, which offered an apology for Catholics who failed to help Jews persecuted by the Nazis, during a meeting in Prague.

``While we must express our disappointment that the Vatican did not accept their responsibility for the centuries of persecution of the Jewish people, we recognize the significance of this declaration as a first step in the right direction,'' it said in a statement.

The committee said the Vatican's declaration Monday could not undo ``the long centuries of oppression, the inquisition and the persecution which culminated with the Holocaust.''

The Vatican document has fallen far short of satisfying most Jews. Many were particularly angered it did not hold wartime Pope Pius XII responsible over accusations he failed to do all he could to stop the Nazi attempt to exterminate them.

``We recognize that they couldn't do that. We know it is a great problem for them,'' the conference director, Rabbi Moshe Rose of Israel, told a news conference.

Vatican historians say Pius XII, who led the Church from 1939 to 1958, purposely did not speak out against Nazism to save Catholics as well as Jews from further retribution in Germany and other Nazi-controlled countries.

``If he saved 100,000 people, it is not enough. He could do more. He could say with his mouth that it is forbidden, that he did not agree,'' said Rabbi Alan Goldman from Paris.

Holocaust scholars have expressed disappointment that the Vatican document failed to account for the role of Catholic teaching in spawning the Nazi oppression.

``If the Shoah (Holocaust) is not directly the responsibility of the Church, we think that the background was prepared during centuries,'' said Goldman.

``What the Pope did is good but for us it is only a beginning.''

In his first public comment on the declaration, Pope John Paul said Wednesday he hoped dialogue between Jews and Catholics would continue in trust.

``I hope and pray that our inter-religious dialogue will continue in a climate of renewed openness and trust,'' the Pope said at his general audience.

Asked what the next step should be, Jakov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, said the rabbis would like the Church to recognize the atmosphere that was created by centuries of repression.

``What we found as a problem was that there is no mention of the Jewish people as such. They think of us as a religion only and not as a people,'' Rose said.

The committee said the full biannual conference, which meets in Milan in May, would deliberate on all of the implications of the Vatican's statement.

The meeting in Prague brought together 17 rabbis from countries including Ukraine, Greece, Russia, Britain, France and Israel.

Earlier Wednesday, the rabbis visited Terezin, a former Nazi concentration camp north of Prague.

The rabbis said the meeting was held in part to encourage the re-establishment of a strong Jewish community in Prague after its near destruction during German occupation and subsequent Communist rule.

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Pope John Paul says Pius XII was a great Pope
05:07 a.m. Mar 21, 1998 Eastern

By Steve Pagani

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE, March 21 (Reuters) - Pope John Paul on Saturday defended his predecessor Pius XII against accusations by some Jews that the wartime pontiff did not do enough to stop the Holocaust.

``He was a great Pope,'' John Paul said of Pius XII when asked about the reaction to a landmark Vatican document on the Holocaust issued last Monday.

``A sufficient response has already been given,'' the Pope added during a brief talk with reporters on the plane taking him to Nigeria minutes before it left Rome airport.

Jews reacted coolly to the long-awaited document and many were particularly irritated by its defence of Pius.

The Pope's words were his first specifically on Pius XII since the document was released although he has defended his predecessor several times in recent years.

Last Wednesday he said he hoped the Catholic-Jewish dialogue would ``continue in a climate of renewed openness and trust.''

The document, ``We Remember, a Reflection on the Shoah,'' effectively absolved Pius XII of the long-standing accusations that he facilitated the Holocaust by remaining silent.

The Vatican's position is that Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, did not speak out more forcefully for fear of worsening the fate of Catholics, as well as Jews, in Germany and Nazi-occupied countries.

The Pope told reporters on his plane to read the writings of Father Pierre Blet, a Jesuit who is the Roman Catholic Church's leading historian of the World War Two era.

``One must read Father Blet,'' the Pope said.

Blet is the last surviving member of a team of Church historians allowed to look into the Vatican's World War Two archives to rebut the accusations against Pius. They produced an 11-volume study from 1965 to 1981.

In an article in the influential Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica on Thursday, Blet repeated the defence.

``The apparent silence hid a secret action carried out (by Pius) through nunciatures (Vatican embassies) and episcopates to avoid, or at least to limit, the deportations, the violence, the persecutions,'' Blet wrote in the article.

``The reasons for such discretion are clearly explained by the Pope (Pius) himself in various speeches, in letters to the German episcopate or in the minutes of the (Vatican) Secretariat of State,'' Blet said.

``Public declarations (by Pius) would not have done anything. They only would have aggravated the fate of the victims and multiplied their numbers.''

The Vatican's document on the Holocaust apologised for individual Catholics who failed to help Jews persecuted by the Nazis.

Jewish leaders were divided on the effect the document, which took 10 years to produce, might have on relations with Catholicism.

They criticised what they said was the Catholic Church's failure to address its preaching of anti-Jewish contempt for centuries.

They said this made the ground fertile for the worst manifestation of anti-Semitism in the Holocaust, in which some six million Jews were killed.

In his article, Blet also rejected accusations, made last year in an unspecified Paris newspaper, that he and the other church historians had intentionally overlooked documents detrimental to Pius.

``We did not deliberately overlook any significant document that could have hurt the image of the Pope and the reputation of the Holy See,'' Blet wrote.

Blet said he had no opposition to opening the Vatican's wartime archives to outside historians, as many Jews had asked, but he doubted if they would find anything new.

The Vatican's pre-1922 archives are now open to outside historians. Material from subsequent years is still being classified by church scholars.

Jewish leaders from around the world are to meet Vatican officials and the Pope next week. The talks were arranged well before the document was issued but it is now expected to be a major topic of discussion.

The Pope left Rome on Saturday for a three-day trip to Nigeria. REUTERS

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Top Catholic historian hits back at Jewish charges
11:42 a.m. Mar 19, 1998 Eastern

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY, March 19 (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church's leading historian of the World War Two era hit back on Thursday at Jewish accusations that the late Pope Pius XII facilitated the Holocaust by remaining silent.

Father Pierre Blet, a Jesuit historian, defended the controversial wartime Pontiff four days after Jews reacted coolly to a landmark Vatican document on the Holocaust that effectively absolved Pius XII of the long-standing accusations.

Blet reiterated the Vatican's position that Pius did not speak out more forcefully for fear of worsening the fate of Catholics, as well as Jews, in Germany and Nazi-occupied countries.

``The apparent silence hid a secret action carried out (by Pius) through nunciatures (Vatican embassies) and episcopates to avoid, or at least to limit, the deportations, the violence, the persecutions,'' he wrote in the Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica.

Blet is the last surviving member of a team of Church historians allowed to look into the Vatican's World War Two archives. They produced an 11-volume study from 1965 to 1981.

``The reasons for such discretion are clearly explained by the Pope (Pius) himself in various speeches, in letters to the German episcopate or in the minutes of the (Vatican) Secretariat of State,'' Blet wrote.

``Public declarations (by Pius) would not have done anything. They only would have aggravated the fate of the victims and multiplied their numbers.''

The Vatican's document on the Holocaust, ``We Remember, a Reflection on the Shoah,'' apologised for individual Catholics who failed to help Jews persecuted by the Nazis.

Jewish leaders were divided on the effect the document, which took 10 years to produce, might have on relations with Catholicism with some even calling it a step backward.

Apart from their anger over the document's defence of Pius, Jewish leaders also criticised what they said was the Catholic Church's failure to address its preaching of anti-Jewish contempt for centuries.

They said this made the ground fertile for the worst incarnation of anti-Semitism in the Holocaust, in which some six million Jews were killed.

In his article, Blet also rejected accusations, made last year in an unspecified Paris newspaper, that he and the other church historians had intentionally overlooked documents detrimental to Pius.

``We did not deliberately overlook any significant document that could have hurt the image of the Pope and the reputation of the Holy See,'' Blet wrote.

When occupying Germans demanded 50 kg of gold from Rome's Jews and the community could only come up with 35 kg, he said, Pius ordered aides to help Jews to make up the difference.

Blet also rejected recurring accusations that the Vatican helped to organise the escape of Nazis to South America after the war.

It could not be excluded that individual priests or prelates in Rome helped fleeing Nazis but if they did they certainly did not ask for the Pope's permission, he said.

Blet said he had no opposition to opening the Vatican's wartime archives to outside historians, as many Jews have asked, but he doubted if they would find anything new.

The Vatican's pre-1922 archives are now open to outside historians. Material from subsequent years is still being classified by church scholars.

Pope John Paul, in his first public comment since the document was released said on Wednesday he hoped Jewish-Catholic dialogue could ``continue in a climate of renewed openness and trust.''

Jewish leaders from around the world are to meet Vatican officials and the Pope next week. The talks were arranged well before the document was issued but it is now expected to be a main topic of discussion.

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Le Pen dismisses Pope's Holocaust call
03:38 a.m. Mar 18, 1998 Eastern

PARIS, March 18 (Reuters) - French far-right leader Jean Marie Le Pen, who once called the Nazi gas chambers a ``mere detail'' of history, said on Wednesday he had no reason to follow the Vatican's call for Christians to repent for the Holocaust.

Le Pen told Europe 1 radio that the issue of Christian responsibility for the massacre of six million Jews during World War Two was ``the Pope's problem.''

``I don't feel any blame and therefore I have no need to repent,'' said the firebrand populist, who is often accused of anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

The Vatican issued a long-awaited statement on the Holocaust on Monday in which it apologised for the part Catholics played in Hitler's Final Solution and said all Christians had a moral duty to ensure it never happened again.

Le Pen, whose anti-foreigner party claims to defend Christian values, has frequently clashed with the Catholic Church hierarchy when it disagrees with his nationalist views.

He said an apology by French bishops last September for the Church's silence about the deportation of 76,000 Jews from France to Nazi death camps was ``absolutely scandalous.''

In January, a Paris magistrate ordered that Le Pen be investigated for saying the concentration camp gas chambers were a mere detail of history.

If found guilty of ``disputing crimes against humanity,'' lhe could be punished with up to a year in jail, a fine of 300,000 francs ($50,000), and possible inelegibility for public office.

Le Pen was fined 1.2 million francs ($200,000) for similar remarks 11 years ago.

Le Pen denies he is racist or anti-Semitic and argues that he and those who vote for his party have been misunderstood. REUTERS

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Sweden gave Nazi Germany export credits - paper
09:52 a.m. Mar 21, 1998 Eastern

STOCKHOLM, March 21 (Reuters) - Notes have been found proving that Nazi Germany bought war materials on credit from neutral Sweden during World War Two, a Swedish newspaper said on Saturday.

A diary belonging to Ivar Rooth, governor of the central bank during the war years, showed Sweden gave export credits to help Germany buy Swedish steel, iron, ships and wooden houses,, Dagens Nyheter said.

This flew in the face of denials by Sweden as late as December 1997 at an international conference in London on the fate of Nazi gold, the newspaper said.

``The question about the credits was taken up immediately after the war as a point of conflict between the Allied nations and the Swiss government. Sweden escaped the problems. Rooth's notes show Sweden was not so innocent,'' Dagens Nyheter said.

The term 'stolen gold' was found in Rooth's notes as early as February 12, 1941, the newspaper said.

From March 1941 to February 1994 credits of varying types were discussed by the central bank, the cabinet and the foreign exchange control office ranging in value from five to 40 million crowns, Dagens Nyheter said.

The newspaper said Rooth's diary showed that private companies also gave Nazi Germany export credits.

``On one occasion Rooth wrote that bearing maker Svenska Kullagerfabriken granted credit for 12 to 15 months on 50 percent of all exports over normal volumes, which Rooth described as very generous.'' REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Romania wants compensation from Russia for pact
10:54 a.m. Mar 17, 1998 Eastern

By Ron Popeski

BUCHAREST, March 17 (Reuters) - Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu said on Tuesday Romania was seeking ``moral reparations'' from Russia to complete a treaty and make up for what Bucharest saw as 20th century injustices.

Plesu said talks were proceeding on the draft of a treaty to replace one signed in 1990 between Romania's first post-Communist President Ion Iliescu and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev but widely denounced in Romania ever since.

Romanians, he said, had to be ``realistic and pragmatic'' in promoting relations with a country as important as Russia.

But Romanian public opinion would object to any new pact unless the two sides discussed loss of Romanian territory under the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact and compensation for 100 tonnes of gold given to tsarist Russia for safekeeping in 1916.

``It would be counter-productive to paint ourselves into a corner by insisting on an explicit mention in the treaty of (the Nazi-Soviet pact),'' he told a news conference.

``But we are speaking here of moral reparations. I believe that formulas can be found that would amount to that for us, for public opinion and for (parliamentary) ratification.''

Plesu said the issue of the gold sent to Russia when Romania was threatened by German invasion in World War One was difficult as decades had passed and documentation was lacking.

``Times were troubled and it is difficult to reconstruct and retrace the trail of that treasure.''

``But it cannot be abandoned...The Romanian proposal here is what I would call reasonable. We do not want the treaty to resolve this. We are asking for the treaty to reflect the desire of both sides to clarify the matter.''

The Nazi-Soviet pact, under which Hitler and Stalin carved up much of eastern Europe, figured highly in talks leading to last year's treaty between Romania and ex-Soviet Ukraine.

Romanian troops occupied Soviet territory for a time after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. In World War Two, Romania was allied to Nazi Germany until August 1944 when it switched to the Allied side as the Red Army advanced on Berlin.

In the talks with Ukraine, Romania initially insisted on an apology for the 1940 Kremlin seizure of Romanian territory. But it dropped the demand when told by the West to sign the pact quickly to keep alive its chances of early entry to NATO.

Romania was later passed over for the first ``wave'' of NATO expansion in favour of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

The issue of the two trainloads of gold turned over to tsarist Russia, then an ally of Romania with strong links between the two country's royal families, was raised in the 1930s and again since the fall of communism.

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin refused to discuss the issue during a visit to Moscow by his Romanian opposite number Nicolae Vacaroiu in 1993. Romania's central bank put the value of the treasure at $38 billion in 1991.

Romania has also yet to sign a treaty with Moldova, the ex-Soviet republic where nearly two thirds of the people are ethnic Romanians and most of the territory is made up of land taken from Romania under the Nazi-Soviet pact. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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FEATURE - Moscow slow in unveiling secrets of Soviet past
09:11 p.m Mar 15, 1998 Eastern

By Adam Tanner

MOSCOW, March 16 (Reuters) - Past the guard with a machine-gun at the entrance and behind a vast series of locked and barred doors lie clues to some of the enigmas of the Soviet past.

Here in the dilapidated buildings of the Russian State Archives in downtown Moscow, researchers are beginning to unlock some of the great mysteries of the 20th century kept by one of history's most closed societies.

``History is being completely rewritten,'' said Moscow historian Vadim Rodinsky. ``Many books are being reworked and myths are being destroyed as new pictures are emerging.''

But a plodding bureaucracy and official uncertainty about releasing demons of the past have kept many important historical facts buried deep in the dusty files, kept secret even after official time limits on their classification have run out.

``The process of declassifying documents is going very slowly,'' said Vladimir Kozlov, the State Archives' deputy director. ``The very strong Russian bureaucracy is to blame.''

Archives released in recent years have revealed that the Red Army used a nuclear weapon during a training exercise in 1954; illuminated Stalin's leading role in organising repression and shed light on the number of his victims.

Historians say still-unearthed documents may answer enigmas such as: was Stalin preparing to attack Hitler prior to Nazi Germany's 1941 blitzkrieg? and was the final decision to build the Berlin Wall made in Moscow or Berlin?

The unanswered questions go on: Why was Marshall Georgy Zhukov, the leading military hero of World War Two, abruptly dismissed as defence minister in 1957? Did the Soviet Union have evidence of American prisoners of war alive in Vietnam long after the war ended?

MAKING MONEY FROM THE ARCHIVES

The answers have not come quickly, and in an era of more political freedom, capitalism is one of the problems.

``The archives are in economic crisis. This is apparent not only in the maintenance of the facilities and payment of salaries, but also in the measures needed to conserve and protect the documents themselves,'' said Greg Freeze, who used the archives as editor of ``Russia: A History.''

Poor funding at most Russian archives has inspired some unorthodox ways to raise money such as photocopying charges of as much as $10 per document.

In some cases, researchers or organisations have got hold of papers by paying a friendly archivist or official, as in the case of University of Cincinatti professor George Hofmann, who researched 1930s Soviet tank technology.

``Hofmann was able to obtain his material by paying the archivist at the Russia State Military Archives $300 in U.S. currency,'' said university spokeswoman Mary Reilly. ``She found everything he wanted, made a copy and apparently didn't delete anything, though this was all still highly classified material.''

Some organisations see much greater profit by systematically selling documents and images from Russia's vast archives, which officials say will remain state property.

The Classica Foundation, a joint project by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Most Group media and banking conglomerate, is now spending $500,000 a year cataloguing parts of the archives, said its director Andrei Kascheyev.

The company says it hopes to emulate Microsoft chairman Bill Gates' firm Corbis, which sells rights to reprint photographs, art and other images that can be downloaded from the Internet.

``For three to five years this work won't be profitable,'' Kascheyev said. ``But in the future if you wanted to see a document you might have to pay, say, 20 cents.''

Critics say the lure of money prompts archivists to squirrel away treasures for publishers and researchers willing to pay.

``In some cases archives withhold materials that they expect to market, or indeed are engaged in doing so,'' Freeze said.

ARCHIVE LIBRARIANS OFTEN SAY NYET

At other times scholars hit a brick wall because of lingering ambivalence about repudiating the Soviet past, experts say.

``In contrast to Germany after World War Two, where access to Nazi materials was never a problem, the new Russia still feels a strong connection to the Soviet government and the Communist Party, and is not able or willing to allow anyone to write about its mistakes, problems or crimes,'' said Mary Habeck, a Yale historian who coordinates its Russian Military History Project.

Alexander Chubaryan, head of the Moscow Institute of World History, wrote late last year that archivists often still see themselves as the last line of defence.

``They saw themselves as a kind of sentinels, guarding secrets and national interests, defending the state and society from infringements of ideological purity,'' he wrote for an international conference of archivists in Moscow.

``This erosion of consciousness took such strong roots in the mind of many archivists that we can see it even now.''

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, archives opened up. But by 1993 changes in the law expanded the definition of what remained secret, restricting access.

Kozlov says rules declassifying documents after 30 years are not being followed because government ministries are slow to review the documents as required and say they are no longer sensitive.

``Officials are afraid to make such a ruling and so they send it around to other ministries to avoid responsibility,'' he said.

Kozlov cited the example of papers related to Lavrenty Beria, who died in 1953, the commissar of internal affairs under Stalin who helped enforce the dictator's policy of terror.

He said only about five percent of Beria's archive has been made public because the Interior Ministry has not certified that releasing the documents does not pose a present-day threat.

``It's not that someone is protecting Beria,'' he said. ``It's a fear of taking responsibility to release the documents.''

Russia has kept up the vigil against opening up the KGB secret police archives, avoiding the anguish some Eastern European neighbours underwent in opening up their police files.

Much to the consternation of researchers, the country's presidential archive -- including Soviet Politburo records and Stalin's personal papers -- also remains largely closed. Its director declined comment for this story.

``In 70-odd years, Soviet leaders accumulated so many terrible secrets that newspaper editors would have more than enough to keep themselves busy publishing documents for years to come,'' President Boris Yeltsin wrote in his memoirs.

``The time will come when all those documents will be carefully studied by archivists, and anyone who wishes to may obtain access to them,'' he wrote in 1994.

Yeltsin has still not said when he expects that day to dawn. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Long history of uprising in Serbia's Kosovo region
10:55 a.m. Mar 08, 1998 Eastern

BELGRADE, March 8, Reuters - The following is an outline chronology of unrest in Serbia's Kosovo province since World War Two:

1945 - As World War Two drew to a close and Nazi forces were driven out of Yugoslavia, some 10,000 ethnic Albanian rebels battled 40,000 Yugoslav troops for control of Kosovo. No casualty figures have ever been published, but historians say the death toll was high.

Serbia, communist Yugoslavia's largest republic, imposed a clampdown in the early 1950s and dozens were killed in various incidents.

1968 - Ethnic Albanian students, encouraged at being given a first tentative measure of self-rule by President Josip Broz Tito, staged mass protests.

1974 - A new Yugoslav constitution granted Kosovo autonomy.

1981 - Kosovo Albanians demanding a separate republic within Yugoslavia rioted and many students were arrested. At least nine people died and hundreds were injured. Troops were sent in and martial law was briefly imposed.

1988 - More than 6,000 Serbs and Montenegrin residents of Kosovo staged a mass protest over alleged harassment by ethnic Albanians.

1989 - To a background of strikes and protests by ethnic Albanians, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic began to remove from the Yugoslav constitution the rights of autonomy Kosovo had been granted in 1974.

Street violence erupted when Kosovo's assembly approved new Serbian controls over the province. Clashes between police and rioters escalated to gun battles, with more than 20 people killed and scores arrested.

January 1990 - Police used tear gas, truncheons and water cannon on thousands of ethnic Albanian demonstrators. The unrest escalated and on January 28 police shot dead at least 10.

February 1990 - Yugoslavia sent troops, tanks, warplanes and 2,000 more police to Kosovo. By the end of February more than 20 people had been killed and a curfew imposed.

July 1990 - Ethnic Albanian legislators in the province declared Kosovo province independent from Serbia. Belgrade dissolved Kosovo's autonomous assembly and government. Strikes and protests rumbled on.

1991 - Neighbouring Albania's parliament recognised Kosovo as an independent republic.

May 1992 - Writer Ibrahim Rugova was elected president of the self-proclaimed republic after an election held in defiance of Serbian authorities.

October 1992 - Serb and ethnic Albanian leaders in Kosovo held face-to-face peace talks for the first time in three years.

1993 - Police said they had arrested more than 30 ethnic Albanians on suspicion of preparing an armed uprising.

July 1995 - A Serbian court sentenced 68 ethnic Albanians to up to eight years in prison for allegedly setting up a parallel police force.

August 1995 - Serbian authorities said they had settled several hundred Croatian Serb refugees in Kosovo, drawing protests from ethnic Albanian leaders.

1996 - Serbia signed a breakthrough deal with ethnic Albanian leaders to return Albanian students to mainstream education after a six-year boycott of state schools and colleges. The accord was never really put into practice.

January 1997 - The Serb rector of Pristina University was badly injured by a car bomb. Within weeks, at least 26 ethnic Albanians had been arrested in a series of police raids and a suspected leader of the outlawed Liberation Army of Kosovo was killed in a gunbattle with police.

March 1997 - Four people were injured when a bomb exploded in the centre of Pristina. The state prosecutor charged 18 alleged members of the illegal ``National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo'' with terrorism offences.

Hopes began to fade that President Slobodan Milosevic would try to win relief from remaining international sanctions against Yugoslavia by restoring some degree of autonomy to Kosovo.

September 1997 - Armed men staged simultaneous night attacks on police stations in 10 Kosovo towns and villages. As the number of guerrilla incidents increased, clashes also continued sporadically between police and peaceful protesters.

October-December 1997 - Attackers launched a grenade and machine-gun raid on a Serb refugee camp, but there were no casualties. Separatists claimed to have shot down a Yugoslav Airlines training aircraft.

December 1997 - A Serbian court sentenced 17 ethnic Albanians to a total of 186 years in jail on terrorism charges.

January 1998 - An ethnic Serb politician was killed in apparent retaliation for a police action 24 hours earlier in which an ethnic Albanian was reported killed.

February 28-March 1 - At least 24 ethnic Albanians and four Serbian police died in clashes between police and alleged separatist guerrillas.

March 2 - Serbian police armed with tear gas, water cannon and clubs waded into thousands of demonstrators protesting in Pristina against the killings of Kosovo Albanians by police.

March 4 - Britain said foreign ministers of the ``big power'' Contact Group -- Britain, the United States, France, Britain, Germany and Italy -- would meet in London on March 9 to discuss Kosovo.

March 5 - Serbia said 20 ethnic Albanians and two Serbian policemen had been killed in fighting in the Kosovo Albanian village of Prekaz. Kosovo Albanians said more than 50 nationalists had died; the United States punished Yugoslavia for escalating violence in Kosovo province by withdrawing limited economic concessions granted in February.

March 6 - Serbian police said they had ``destroyed the core'' of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army in central Kosovo, killing guerrilla leader Adem Jasari and capturing 30 of his fighters.

March 7 - Scores of ethnic Albanian villagers slept out in the open in the hills of Kosovo for a third night as Serbian police continued their onslaught against alleged separatist guerrillas; Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the United States would not tolerate a return to bloodshed in former Yugoslavia and believed Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was responsible for the Kosovo problem. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Germany pays Nazi-hunters to check pensioners
10:43 a.m. Mar 09, 1998 Eastern

By Robert Mahoney

BONN, March 9 (Reuters) - Nazi-hunters said on Monday they hoped to create ``an encyclopedia of mass murder'' by working with Germany to track down war criminals receiving German veterans' pensions.

Representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said they would receive government money to scour lists of war pensioners or their surviving relatives living outside Germany.

Labour Minister Norbert Bluem said the Los Angeles-based organisation would use its archives to cross check the 33,137 pensions his ministry pays abroad.

``At issue here is how Germany comes to terms with its past,'' Bluem told a news conference with Center representatives.

Bluem said Germany would give the Simon Wiesenthal Center 200,000 marks ($109,000) to start research. Other unspecified funding would follow, he said.

Efraim Zuroff, head of the Center's Jerusalem office, said the organisation would use its expertise on crimes committed in central and eastern Europe during World War Two to help the Germans go through their lists.

``We are about to create an encylopedia of mass murder, an attempt to list the names of all those people who were in any way connected with these events to enable the German government to cancel the pensions of those who are getting them,'' Zuroff said.

The project follows lobbying by Jewish groups which led to Germany's closing a loophole in the law last November under which war criminals abroad were able to draw disability pensions.

Shimon Samuels of the Center's European office said that, of the 11 countries that had received names of pensioners from Germany, only the United States and Britain had acted upon them.

Some countries had invoked privacy and data protection laws as reasons for not acting, others had simple ignored the lists, Samuels said.

The United States had found two war crime suspects on its list of 325 pensioners and payments to them had been stopped, Zuroff said.

Samuels said he expected Canada to take action shortly after dealing with data protection issues. He said he hoped to meet French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to ask whether France intended to check the 721 names on its list.

He said this could include French volunteers who served in the Charlemagne Division of the SS.

``I have given names of war criminals to countries in Latin America and Europe and been told that they do not exist,'' Samuels told reporters.

``Now for the first time we can check them against the German lists. Even if we can't do anything else we can stop their pension.''

Zuroff praised Bluem for his cooperation in providing names from the 437,000 veterans, who draw a pension for serving during the Third Reich, and their 559,000 dependants.

``We view this project as another dimension of attempts to achieve justice even at this late date,'' Zuroff said. ``Because there is no statute of limitations regarding the pursuit of justice.'' ($ - 1.832 German Marks) REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Berlin publisher pulls CD with Hitler quotes
01:00 p.m Mar 18, 1998 Eastern

BERLIN, March 18 (Reuters) - A Berlin publishing house said on Wednesday it was withdrawing copies of a compact disc of an actor shouting passages from Hitler's ``Mein Kampf'' manifesto from the shops.

The disc performed by actor Ekkehard Schall, who is the son-in-law of German dramatist Bertolt Brecht and was one of former communist East Germany's most celebrated actors, was recorded in 1996 at Berlin's renowned Volksbuehne theatre and intended as a political satire.

But Germany's Jewish leader Ignatz Bubis recently criticised it, saying its message could be misconstrued and that it could fall into the hands of neo-Nazis and rightwing extremists.

The final straw came however, when the state of Bavaria said it held the rights to the Nazi leader's writings and demanded the CD be removed from store shelves, saying it also feared disc would be bought by right-wing extremists, Berlin publishers Eulenspiegel said.

Matthias Oehme, the managing director of the company, dismissed their concerns as misguided and insisted the performance was intended as political satire of the Nazi leader.

``I see no danger posed by this CD,'' Oehme told Reuters. ``If neo-Nazis want a copy of 'Mein Kampf' they can find it almost anywhere in Germany. It has been available for years on the Internet.

``Besides, anyone who wants it for those purposes won't want a copy where the text is being screamed and moaned.''

Oehme said that he had published 1,000 copies of the disc, of which 500 were still in shops.

Bavaria has claimed the rights to ``Mein Kampf,'' which means ``My Struggle,'' because Hitler wrote the tract while he was in the state's Landsberg prison after his failed putsch in 1923. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Berlin Mayor questions Holocaust memorial -report
08:50 a.m. Mar 19, 1998 Eastern

BERLIN, March 19 (Reuters) - Berlin's mayor Eberhard Diepgen has raised doubts on plans for a Holocaust memorial in the heart of the city, a German newspaper reported on Thursday.

The planned memorial has provoked an increasingly heated debate which goes to the heart of Germany's efforts to come to terms with its Nazi past.

The memorial has already been allocated a plot of land in Berlin's new federal government quarter and a 15 million mark ($8.2 million) budget. The result of a competition to find the design was due to be announced later this month.

But Diepgen's comments, reported by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily, raised the prospect that the controversial project, which has been planned for 10 years, may meet with resistance when it comes to the crunch.

The paper quoted him as saying he was not opposed to a memorial in principle but he objected to one that had ``no validity for future generations in terms of its design and artistic presentation.''

Diepgen said none of the blueprints from which a winning design would be selected later this month had convinced him that it was possible ``to relate to this horror artistically.''

The groundbreaking ceremony is to take place on January 27, 1999 -- 54 years to the day after the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

A spokesman for Berlin city-state's cultural minister Peter Radunski was adamant that the project would go ahead but declined to comment on Diepgen's reported remarks.

The spokesman said Berlin's decision was not a matter for the mayor alone, but for the city-state government as a whole.

The city must decide jointly with the federal government in Bonn and a private group, who initiated the project led by German television personality Lea Rosh, to back the project before it can go ahead.

Diepgen's comments appeared to snub the design which Chancellor Helmut Kohl had appeared to favour most in January at a public viewing of the four finalists.

The entry by New York artists Peter Eisenman and Richard Serra envisages a landscape of 4,000 concrete pillars each measuring 0.92 metres (three feet) wide by 2.3 metres (8.5 feet) long and with varying heights of up to 7.5 metres (24.5 feet).

The overall effect is that of a graveyard-like labyrinth that can be entered by the visitor from any of its four sides.

The blueprint that won a previous competition to find a design was firmly rejected by politicians, historians and Holocaust survivors and the search began all over again.

A group of prominent Germans including writer Guenter Grass urged Kohl last month in an open letter to abandon the project, saying none of the blueprints in the latest competition to find a design was suitable. REUTERS

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Fresh row threatens Berlin Holocaust memorial
12:02 p.m. Mar 19, 1998 Eastern

BERLIN, March 19 (Reuters) - Opposition to Berlin's planned Holocaust memorial surfaced again on Thursday and threatened to derail the controversial 10-year project just as it was about to receive the final go-ahead.

The long-discussed monument to six million Jews murdered during the Nazi reign of terror has provoked an emotional debate which goes to the heart of Germany's efforts to come to terms with its past.

Berlin's mayor Eberhard Diepgen told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily none of the blueprints from which a winning design would be selected later this month had convinced him it was possible ``to relate to this horror artistically.''

Diepgen said he was not opposed to a memorial in principle but he objected to one that had ``no validity for future generations in terms of its design and artistic presentation.''

A Berlin government spokesman declined to comment on Diepgen's remarks.

But city councillor Nikolaus Sander told Berlin's Info-Radio he agreed with Diepgen and he was sure the rest of the Berlin government shared the mayor's objections. ``It should be a place of quiet grief,'' Sander said.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the memorial in Berlin's future government quarter had been set to take place on January 27, 1999 -- 54 years to the day after the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

The city government must decide jointly with the federal government in Bonn and a private group that they will back the 15 million mark project before it can go ahead. If one of the parties pulls out, it could be put on hold indefinitely.

Diepgen's comments also appeared to snub the design which Chancellor Helmut Kohl spoke of favourably in January at a public viewing of the four finalists.

The entry by architect Peter Eisenman and New York sculptor Richard Serra envisages a landscape of 4,000 concrete pillars measuring 0.92 metres (three feet) wide by 2.3 metres (8.5 feet) long and with varying heights of up to 7.5 metres (24.5 feet).

The overall effect is that of a graveyard-like labyrinth that can be entered from any of its four sides.

Politicians, historians and Holocaust survivors rejected the blueprint that won a previous competition to find a design and the search began all over again.

A group of prominent Germans including writer Guenter Grass urged Kohl last month in an open letter to abandon the project, describing the designs in the latest competition as unsuitable.

REUTERS

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FOCUS-Israeli threat to bar European peace role
07:43 a.m. Mar 16, 1998 Eastern

By Paul Holmes

JERUSALEM, March 16 (Reuters) - Israel threatened on Monday to exclude the European Union from Middle East peacemaking if British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook went ahead with a planned visit to a Jewish settlement in Arab East Jerusalem.

A sandstorm that delayed the start of Cook's three-day Middle East tour in Cairo on Monday was nothing compared to the political storm brewing in Israel and the Palestinian areas over the Har Homa settlement he was due to visit on Tuesday.

On walls of the British consulate in Jerusalem, vandals painted slogans calling Cook an anti-Semite, police said.

``If we are put in the corner by a unilateral decision of the British presidency to go ahead and visit Har Homa, then obviously all the good things that we are envisaging doing with Europe will not happen,'' said a senior Israeli official.

Britain holds the rotating EU presidency until June.

On his way to Cairo, Cook said he was determined to go ahead with the visit to Har Homa on a hilltop known to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim. In London, a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said the British leader stood behind Cook.

``I am anxious to see Har Homa for myself. I would have thought that it would be in the interests of both parties -- including the government of Israel -- that I were informed by seeing the situation for myself,'' Cook told reporters.

Israel has long regarded the European Union as having a pro-Palestinian bias and argued that its positions preclude it from playing an ``honest broker'' role in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Israeli official said a fresh request was made of Cook on Sunday night to cancel the planned visit to the settlement on land occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel had not made any threat to cancel Cook's meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the official said.

But the official added: ``You cannot catch flies by giving them vinegar and basically by taking actions which are considered unfriendly and prejudicial by Israel -- the more of that is done, the less the Europeans will be allowed to have a constructive role.''

The official said Israel regarded all of Jerusalem as part of its sovereign territory and that Cook's plan was prejudicial to the outcome of future Israeli-Palestinian talks on a final peace deal that addresses the fate of Jerusalem.

``It...looks a little bit like a tour of inspection. We do not go to inspect any of our friends,'' the official said.

Israel captured East Jerusalem along with the rest of the West Bank in 1967. It annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognised by the international community. Palestinians view East Jerusalem as capital of a future state.

``Robin Cook is an anti-Semite,'' and ``Robin Cook go home'' as well as ``Har Homa is Jewish forever!'' were written on the walls of the British consulate branch in West Jerusalem, police said.

The British Consulate said in a statement it ``regretted that some people have to express themselves that way especially since the purpose of Cook's visit is to advance the peace process.''

Cook had planned to visit Har Homa with Faisal al-Husseini, the Palestinian official in charge of Palestinian affairs in East Jerusalem, to see for himself one of the thorniest issues dividing Israelis and Palestinians.

Following an Israeli protest, a British foreign office spokesman said Cook would not meet Husseini at the site but elsewhere in East Jerusalem.

``Think what would happen if the prime minister (of Israel) were to visit London and the first person he met was Gerry Adams,'' Netanyahu's communications chief David Bar-Illan said in a reference to the northern Irish nationalist leader.

Bar-Illan assailed Cook's decision to visit the settlement site -- ``and thereby give support to the Palestinian claim to this part of Jerusalem'' -- while passing up a visit to the Yad Vashem national memorial to the Nazi Holocaust.

Palestinian-Israeli negotiations have been deadlocked since Israel began building the settlement on occupied Arab land in East Jerusalem a year ago. Suicide attacks by Moslem militants have plunged peacemaking deeper into crisis.

Husseini criticised Israel's opposition to the Abu Ghneim visit and said it was trying to undermine British peace efforts.

``Israel is trying to place obstacles before a British role and is trying to belittle the importance of the British role in the peace process,'' Husseini told Reuters.

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Israel, post Cook, lays it on thick for Austria PM
10:38 a.m. Mar 19, 1998 Eastern

By Paul Holmes

JERUSALEM, March 19 (Reuters) - Israel rolled out the red carpet for Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima on Thursday in marked contrast to an ice-cold reception just 48 hours earlier for British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied that the warmth of Klima's welcome was intended to rub salt in the wounds sustained by Cook during a trip on Tuesday that climaxed in a bitter row over Jewish settlements on occupied land.

Austria takes over the European Union presidency from Britain on July 1.

``This was not a trick and it was not a master plan,'' Netanyahu told a questioner at a news conference with Klima after a working lunch that ran long beyond schedule.

``I'll work with the present presidency of the EU and the next presidency of the EU with equal readiness,'' he said.

But the body language, smiles and words -- the two leaders called each other Viktor and Benjamin -- spoke volumes about Israel's apparent delight at a chance to highlight the differences between Klima's visit and Cook's.

Klima made his first stop in Jerusalem the Yad Vashem memorial to victims of the Holocaust, a pilgrimage Israel assailed Cook for not undertaking on Tuesday.

``This is something that never fails to move our sensibilities and we appreciate that very important gesture,'' Netanyahu told Klima.

``Despite the cold weather this is the warmest welcome we can offer...the warmth comes from the hearts of the people, all of them without exception. Welcome Viktor Klima,'' he said.

Cook infuriated Netanyahu on Tuesday when he made his first stop in Jerusalem a trip to the construction site of a new Jewish settlement on the edge of Arab East Jerusalem.

His visit to the hilltop site, known in Arabic as Jabal Abu Ghneim and in Hebrew as Har Homa, was intended to highlight EU disapproval of settlement expansion on lands Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East War.

Netanyahu cut short official talks with Cook and cancelled a dinner with the minister, who was on a tour of the Middle East to promote a new EU initiative to breathe life into moribund peace talks.

Klima lunched with Netanyahu and was to dine with him on Thursday night followed by a second round of previously unscheduled talks.

He steered clear of the controversy over the Har Homa visit, for which Cook had the backing of fellow EU foreign ministers, and put the emphasis on Israeli security in his comments on deadlocked peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians.

``We believe that the formula for peace in the region is a twofold one. Security for the Israelis, which is very important and which we really support, and also the justice for the Palestinians,'' Klima said.

``Minister Cook tried to do his best. He presented ideas of the European Union to give additional support for the peace process and we are Europeans and we decided it on the level of the European Union,'' Klima said.

``Nevertheless...the main purpose of my visit is to gather information to prepare my presidency for the European Union.''

Klima was due to travel to Gaza on Friday for talks with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. ^[email protected]

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Israeli cat sparks manhunt
04:58 p.m Mar 08, 1998 Eastern

JERUSALEM, March 8 (Reuters) - Israeli police launched a manhunt on Sunday as a result of what the cat dragged in.

A Jerusalem student discovered a dismembered human penis on his sofa, apparently after it had been brought in through an open window by a neighbourhood cat.

``I found a piece of flesh. It looked suspiciously like male genitalia. I called the police,'' the unnamed student tersely told Israel radio.

``We are starting with the assumption that if there is a male organ in the apartment it possibly got there via a living animal, it appears a cat,'' said deputy police commander Effi Tibi.

He said police using sniffer dogs were searching the area for a body.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Israeli police catch rat after cat sparks manhunt
05:05 a.m. Mar 09, 1998 Eastern

JERUSALEM, March 9 (Reuters) - Israeli police were left with a rat on Monday after a 12-hour manhunt sparked by what the cat dragged in.

Forensic tests showed that what police took to be a dismembered human penis, dragged into a Jerusalem student's home through an open window on Sunday by a cat, was in fact the fetus of a rat.

``We closed the file after a rapid investigation revealed the penis was a fetus,'' a spokesman at the Abu Kabir forensic institute told Reuters.

Police pulled sniffer dogs off the trail of a human body after receiving the laboratory analysis.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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60 years on, Austria remembers its Nazi annexation
11:58 a.m. Mar 11, 1998 Eastern

By Paul Carrel

VIENNA, March 11 (Reuters) - Chancellor Viktor Klima on Wednesday marked Austria's 60th anniversary of its annexation by Nazi Germany with a call to his country to face up to what he called the most dreadful period in its history.

Speaking in Vienna City Hall, close to the Heldenplatz square where 250,000 Austrians welcomed a jubilant Adolf Hitler in March 1938, Klima said Austrians had been both victims and perpetrators of the crimes of the Nazis.

Klima, the first Austrian Chancellor born since World War Two, recalled that it was exactly 60 years ago on Wednesday that Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg resigned under pressure from Hitler.

The German army poured across the border the next day and Austria ceased to exist as a nation, becoming a mere outpost of the Nazi Reich.

``The following seven years were the most dreadful and sorrowful in more than 1,000 years of Austrian history,'' Klima said.

``What began in those March days ended for hundreds of thousands of Austrians in concentration camps, on the battlefields of the Second World War, in the bombed-out cities of our homeland.''

Unlike other countries occupied by the Nazis during World War Two, Austria embraced the invasion and even surprised the Germans with an enthusiasm which still scars the nation's collective memory.

Austrian Nazis proved to be even more ruthless than their German counterparts and beat up and robbed Jews and also used the annexation, or ``Anschluss,'' to terrorise their political opponents -- the Social Democrats and Communists.

In a referendum organised by the Nazis a month after the Anschluss, 99.7 percent of Austrians voted Yes to annexation.

Klima said Austrians were not to have known the implications of the annexation.

``Their Yes to the Anschluss did not in any way mean a Yes to mass murder and war. We should admire all the more those who recognised the danger and resisted.''

Instead of joining West Germany in atoning for the atrocities, Austria chose to ignore the seven dark years of the Anschluss, supported by an Allied declaration from 1943 that the country was the first victim of the Nazis.

Klima's predecessor Franz Vranitzky in a speech to parliament in 1991 was the first Austrian leader to admit his country was a servant of Nazism.

Klima said the nation's young and old should face up to their history.

``He who does not remember his history will be condemned to relive his past,'' he said. ``Let us learn from it and never forget.''

He said it was not for the post-war generation to judge Austrians who welcomed the Anschluss or failed to resist it.

``But what we can and must demand is an open and critical coming to terms with Austria's Nazi past, which is something I as chancellor will always stand for.''

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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FEATURE - Austria, Hitler's victim and accomplice
09:21 p.m Mar 09, 1998 Eastern

By Rolf Soderlind

VIENNA, March 10 (Reuters) - Sixty years ago this week, Austria was invaded and annexed by Nazi Germany to become the first victim of Adolf Hitler's aggression.

But unlike other countries occupied by the Nazis in the ensuing World War Two, Austria embraced the March 12, 1938 invasion with an enthusiasm that surprised the Germans and which still affects the country.

The role as victim-turned-accomplice in Hitler's crimes against humanity was a taboo for decades after the war in Austria, where today the far-right Freedom Party of Joerg Haider, whose parents were Nazis, is the third largest political group.

Austrian Nazis, quickly proving to be even more brutal than their ruthless German masters, hit the streets after the invasion to intimidate, beat up and rob mainly Jews but also to settle the account with Social Democrats and Communists -- their political opponents.

``This was not on Hitler's orders. It was a spontaneous pogrom. It was popular among Austrians to go after the Jews,'' said Gerhard Botz, professor of contemporary history at the University of Vienna.

The attacks on Jews were particularly nasty in Vienna, and German Nazis had to restrain their fellow thugs to allow for an orderly assimilation of Austria into Germany.

``For the first few weeks the behaviour of the Vienna Nazis was worse than anything I had seen in Germany,'' wrote American journalist William Shirer in ``The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,'' a classic book on Hitler published in 1959.

``There was an orgy of sadism.''

Day after day Jewish men and women were forced to scrub the pavements and clean the gutters of the Austrian capital, the elegant cafe society that was hitherto known as a stage for classical music and a shining example of Baroque architecture.

``While they worked on their hands and knees with jeering storm troopers standing over them, crowds gathered to taunt them,'' Shirer wrote.

It was just the beginning.

Of 250,000 Austrians defined as Jews by Nazi racist terminology, 65,000 were exterminated in death camps such as Austria's Mauthausen while the rest fled or were driven out. Many committed suicide.

``Not all made it to America,'' Botz said.

CRADLE OF NAZISM?

The 60th anniversary of the Anschluss will be marked with a ceremony on Wednesday in Vienna's City Hall -- not far from the Heldenplatz square where some 250,000 Austrians gave an excited Hitler a hero's welcome three days after German invasion troops crossed into the country unopposed.

Hitler was born in Austria, which historians say was the cradle of Nazism at the start of the century. Hitler merely took the ideas with him to Munich and, later, Berlin.

Austria had a wartime population of six million, 700,000 of whom were members of the National Socialist Party, or Nazis.

A disproportionately high number of Austrians, including war criminals such as (Adolf) Eichmann and (Ernst) Kaltenbrunner, took active part in the systematic extermination of Jews.

Today, 8,000 to 10,000 Jews live in Austria, but most are recent immigrants from eastern Europe.

``Those who managed to escape the Holocaust did not want to return to live alongside their anti-Semitic neighbours in Austria,'' Botz said.

Instead of joining West Germany in atoning for the atrocities, Austria swept the dark chapters of the seven-year Anschluss period under the carpet, supported by an Allied declaration from 1943 that the country was the first victim of the Nazis.

While the National Socialist Party was banned in post-war Austria, many veteran Nazis were highly educated people who found a new career in politics and government.

``They could not remove the entire leadership, because then the state would no longer be able to function,'' said Professor Wolfgang Neugebauer of the Documentation Archive of the Austrian Resistance.

``In the first government of Social Democratic Chancellor Bruno Kreisky in 1970, four ministers were former Nazis.''

It was not until 1995 that Austria started paying compensation to surviving victims of Austrian Nazi aggression.

WALDHEIM CONTROVERSY INCREASED AWARENESS

Neugebauer said the controversy around Kurt Waldheim, the former Austrian president haunted by war crime accusations, became a catalyst for increasing awareness in Austria on the matter.

Waldheim's campaign to become president in 1986 and his years in office were overshadowed by allegations that he was involved in war crimes committed in Yugoslavia by the German army, in which he served from 1942 to 1945.

Wednesday's City Hall ceremony will be led by Chancellor Viktor Klima, whose predecessor Franz Vranitzky in a speech to parliament in 1991 became the first Austrian leader to admit that his country was a servant of Nazism.

Two years later, Vranitzky, on a visit to Israel, begged the forgiveness of the victims of the Holocaust.

Botz said Austrians had been toying with the idea of joining Germany since the end of World War One when Austria lost its old Austro-Hungarian empire.

``There was a long-term evolution towards Anschluss in Austria,'' Botz said. ``Also, the economic crisis had hit Austria particularly hard with high unemployment. Many Austrians glanced at Germany, where things looked brighter.

``The Anschluss movement was much bigger than the National Socialist Party in Austria. But because the Nazis implemented the Anschluss, many non-Nazis joined the party,'' Botz said.

The Anschluss tradition combined with anti-Semitism made the Nazis particularly attractive to Austrians, whose resentment of the Jews was deeply rooted.

Had the disgraced government of Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg ordered the troops to open fire on the invading Germans, it would probably have faced civil war.

``The Nazis were already inside,'' Botz said.

In a referendum organised by the Nazis a month after the Anschluss, 99.7 percent of Austrians voted Yes to annexation.

``The election was not a fraud, but it was not democratic either,'' Botz said. ``All Jews and political opponents were barred from voting. As many as 400,000 to 500,000 eligible voters were kept away from the polls.''

Still, Austria had a resistance movement, but its fighters had to cope with difficulties peculiar to the country.

In other occupied countries, the Germans were an object of public hostility, but the Austrian resistance found itself operating in an environment which was hostile to its activities. Informants were a constant threat and 2,700 Austrians were executed as resistance fighters or deserters by the Nazis.

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Local Russians demand stop to Latvia SS march
11:57 a.m. Mar 13, 1998 Eastern

RIGA, March 13 (Reuters) - Organisations of Russian speakers in the Baltic state of Latvia urged the country's president on Friday to ban a planned march by Latvian SS World War Two veterans.

Former members of the ``Latvian Legion,'' drafted by the Nazis to fight the Soviet army, plan to commemorate their unit's 55th anniversary with a gathering on Sunday and a procession through Riga's old town on Monday.

``We demand the march of veterans of the Nazi Waffen SS legion on March 15 1998 be banned. This is not compatible with the name of a democratic country as Latvia calls itself,'' the organisations said in an open letter to President Guntis Ulmanis.

``Mr. President! What sort of country are we living in? Is this a democratic republic?'' asked the letter, which was signed by four Russian organisations and published in the local Russian-language newspaper SM.

More than 100,000 Latvians were drafted illegally into the Latvian Legion. Nazi hunters say they did not necessarily take part in war crimes, but it would be inappropriate for the former Soviet republic to celebrate the unit's formation by the Nazis.

Veterans say that although they were conscripted, they regard their fight against the Soviet army as national service after more than 15,000 Latvians were deported to Soviet camps during the first communist occupation in 1941.

A spokesman for the president's office said he had not made an official response to the letter. Ulmanis has said in the past that the legion has legal rights to gather and has acknowledged the complicated fate of Latvia, which was occupied by both the Nazis and the Soviet Union.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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FOCUS-Latvia SS men stage controversial reunion
08:55 a.m. Mar 15, 1998 Eastern

By Burton Frierson

RIGA, March 15 (Reuters) - About 500 former Latvian SS soldiers who fought with the Germans during World War Two gathered on Sunday for a controversial reunion of their unit to mark its 55th anniversary.

The song-filled gathering of the greying veterans will be followed on Monday by a church service, a procession through Riga's old town and flower laying at the Freedom Monument and soldiers' cemetery.

The events have been blasted by groups who see them as an insult to those who suffered Nazi atrocities and local Russian organisations have asked President Guntis Ulmanis to have Monday's procession banned.

Historians and Nazi hunters say that while membership in the legion did not necessarily amount to war crimes guilt, some units that were added to it near the end of the war had committed atrocities.

``They were fighting in an organisation...whose goal was for the Third Reich to win the war,'' said Effraim Zuroff, director of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

``Many of them were members of security organisations who took part in the murder of Jews prior to joining the Latvian Legion,'' Zuroff told Reuters.

Over 100,000 Latvians were drafted by the Nazis or joined the Latvian Legion during the German occupation of the small Baltic state.

Critics of the gatherings say Latvia, which quit the former Soviet Union in 1991, should find new heroes, untainted by either the Soviet or Nazi regimes.

But the former members of the legion see their fight on the Russian front as national service after tens of thousands of Latvians and other Balts were shipped to Siberia in the early days of the Soviet era.

``We were not fighting for the Germans, we were fighting against the Soviets,'' said Valentins Silamikelis, a former private in the Latvian Legion.

The veterans say they were drafted illegally and that the Germans lied when they called the legion a voluntary SS unit.

After the war the allies confirmed this and the U.S. said membership in the legion was not an obstacle to immigration for the thousands of Latvians in refugee camps throughout Europe.

Historians say this confused the legion's status since it basically amnestied members of security squads that had killed Jews and were brought into the legion in its final days.

``From my perspective it looks like a tragic situation,'' said Andrew Ezergailis, a professor of history at U.S. Ithaca College, who has researched the legion.

``They don't want to recognise it as having participated in an ironic turn of events.''

Latvia's government has refused to participate in the commemoration, a move the veterans said was a disgrace.

``I would hope that 50 years after the war the government would start learning the country's history and not hiding their heads in sand like ostriches,'' said Aleksandrs Kalvans, deputy head of Daugavas Vanagi, a Latvian veterans' organisation.

Riga's city government decided to prohibit a demonstration aimed against the Monday march. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Latvian Nazi legion holds parade, Russia protests
01:28 p.m Mar 16, 1998 Eastern

By Martinsh Gravitis

RIGA, March 16 (Reuters) - Over 500 veterans of Latvia's Nazi Waffen-SS legion paraded through the capital Riga on Monday, prompting a furious protest from Russia, with which relations are already at a low ebb.

The Latvian Waffen-SS legion insist they were patriots fighting alongside Hitler's troops in World War Two to stop another invasion by Soviet forces.

But Moscow condemned the high-profile commemoration of the unit's 55th anniversary as a shameful celebration of fascism.

The Latvian government decided not to send an official representative to the two-day reunion, but armed forces commander Juris Dalbinsh attended the parade which brought the event to a climax.

The legion's supporters say the men fought for their homeland after tens of thousands of Latvians and other Balts were deported to Soviet camps in 1941 before the Nazis invaded.

``This is a day of remembrance for those men who have died in battle for Latvia's independence,'' Dalbinsh said after the veterans and their families paraded through the city carrying national flags and laying flowers at Latvia's national monument, the Freedom Monument.

But a crowd of mainly Russian-speaking pensioners jeered the veterans and called them fascists.

And the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that ``Moscow feels indignation...that veterans of the Latvian voluntary SS legion have, with the blessing of officials, celebrated the anniversary of the unit, whose history is marked with blood and deaths of thousands.''

``This attention to fascist underlings is shameful for Europe and is a challenge to the memories of many millions of war victims.''

Bilateral ties are already strained since Latvian police broke up a protest by mainly Russian-speaking pensioners two weeks ago.

Moscow threatened to respond with sanctions, taking relations to their lowest ebb since Latvia left the former Soviet Union in 1991.

Over 100,000 Latvians were drafted into or joined the Latvian Legion, which fought on the Russian front with the Germans during the Nazi occupation of the Baltic states.

Historians say members of the legion -- and other similar legions recruited by the Nazis into their elite Waffen-SS in countries they had occupied -- were not necessarily war criminals.

But some of the units which were merged in to the Latvian Legion and others near the end of the war had committed atrocities.

``If people can't understand that serving in the SS was a negative thing, then there is some serious education work that needs to be done in Latvia,'' Effraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's Jerusalem office, told Reuters.

The members of the legion say they were drafted by the Germans in violation of the Hague and Geneva conventions, and the Allies confirmed this after the end of the war.

The United States also said membership of the Latvian legion was not an obstacle to immigration for the thousands of Latvian refugees in displaced persons camps throughout Europe. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Russia alarmed by mute reaction to Riga SS parade
01:23 p.m Mar 19, 1998 Eastern

MOSCOW, March 19 (Reuters) - The Kremlin said on Thursday it was alarmed by the lack of reaction by European governments to celebrations this week by Latvia's Waffen-SS legion.

``The silence of many European states, members of the European Union and NATO is surprising,'' presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembsky told a news briefing.

``And they are trying to convince us that NATO and EU enlargement is the synonym of widening democracy and freedom.''

Referring to Latvia's efforts to join the EU, Yastrzhembsky added: ``Does this silence mean...they are going to invite into this zone of democracy a country whose authorities favour SS dregs, that gentlemen from the European and NATO democracies are ready to sit at the same table as the people who openly march under Nazi flags?''

More than 500 veterans of Latvia's Nazi Waffen-SS legion paraded through the capital Riga on Monday, prompting a protest by Russia, with whom Latvia's relations are at a low ebb.

The veterans, who were marking their unit's 55th anniversary, say they were patriots fighting alongside Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's troops in World War Two to stop another invasion by Soviet forces.

Historians and Nazi hunters say that while membership of the legion did not necessarily amount to guilt for war crimes, some units that were added to it near the end of the war had committed atrocities.

The Latvian government allowed the two-day reunion to go ahead but decided not to send an official representative. Even so, armed forces commander Juris Dalbinsh attended the parade.

Riga authorities also banned a demonstration against the reunion.

``This was an astonishing and disgusting scene for Europe...on the eve of the 21st century,'' Yastrzhembsky said.

Israel on Thursday denounced the reunion parade, but praised the Latvian government for not attending.

Yastrzhembsky reiterated that Russia was considering the use of economic sanctions against Latvia, partly in response to the Latvian police's rough handling of a group of protesters, many of them ethnic Russians, demanding higher pensions this month.

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin ruled out sanctions later on Thursday, Itar-Tass news agency said.

The Baltic states -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and spent half a century under Soviet rule before becoming independent.

Russia has regularly said Estonia and Latvia discriminate against the large Russian minorities that migrated there in the Soviet era. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Israel denounces Nazi SS reunion in Latvia
09:46 a.m. Mar 19, 1998 Eastern

JERUSALEM, March 19 (Reuters) - Israel on Thursday denounced a reunion parade of veterans of Latvia's Nazi Waffen-SS legion in Riga earlier this week.

``It's puzzling and sad that in a country where most of its Jews were killed on its soil, there are those who think it's correct to remember the murderers and collaborators,'' the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Tens of thousands of Latvian Jews were killed or deported to Nazi concentration camps while under German occupation during World War Two.

On Monday, more than 500 veterans paraded through the Latvian capital of Riga, carried flags, and laid flowers at a national monument.

Israel praised the Latvian government for not sending an official representative to the reunion, even though armed forces commander Juris Dalbinsh attended the parade.

``We see the move of the Latvian government ... not to take part in the events as positive,'' the statement read.

Russia also condemned the high-profile commemoration, calling the unit's 55th anniversary a shameful celebration of fascism.

The legion's supporters say the men fought for their homeland after tens of thousands of Latvians and other Balts were deported to Soviet camps in 1941 before the Nazis invaded.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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U.S. insurance team to inspect Holocaust documents
08:26 p.m Mar 17, 1998 Eastern

SALT LAKE CITY, March 17 (Reuters) - The American National Association of Insurance Commissioners will send a delegation to inspect files of European insurers suspected of withholding claims owed to survivors of the Holocaust, officials said on Tuesday.

The NAIC's Holocaust Working Group voted unanimously during the association's annual meeting in Salt Lake City to appoint California Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush to lead the team to Europe.

Quackenbush, who has been critical of some European insurers, said the trip was part of a larger plan drawn up by the working group to ensure that long-overdue insurance claims are paid to survivors of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust Working Group also plans to establish an international commission to oversee insurance company inspections, Quackenbush said.

``Justice must be served for Holocaust survivors who waited for at least 50 years to have their insurance claims paid,'' Quackenbush said. ``Time is of the essence and we want these claims settled during a Holocaust survivor's lifetime.''

Quackenbush threatened last month to block Assicurazioni Generali SpA, a major Italian insurance firm, from doing business in California after company officials failed to appear at a hearing he convened on benefits allegedly owed to Holocaust survivors.

Since then, Generali has agreed to give the commissioners access to their insurance records housed in Italy.

Deborah Senn, insurance commissioner for Washington state, said on Monday that another European insurer, Switzerland's Winterthur Insurance Co, has also agreed to meet with representatives of the NAIC's working group.

A spokeswoman for Quackenbush said the dates and other details of the trip were still being worked out, but that some of Quackenbush's staff were already in Italy laying the groundwork for the delegation's visit. REUTERS

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Kohl to push ahead with Berlin Holocaust memorial
11:55 a.m. Mar 23, 1998

By Fiona Fleck

BONN, March 23 (Reuters) - The German government reaffirmed its intention on Monday to go ahead with plans for a Holocaust memorial in Berlin, despite opposition which has threatened to derail the whole project.

The monument to six million Jews murdered by the Nazis is due to get the final go-ahead this month once the Bonn government, the city of Berlin and a private group who initiated the 15 million mark ($8 million) project select a winning design.

The groundbreaking ceremony is to take place on January 27, 1999 -- 54 years to the day after the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. But if one of the parties pulls out, it could be put on hold indefinitely.

Anton Pfeifer, State Minister in the Chancellery, said German Chancellor Helmut Kohl wanted to meet New York-based architect Peter Eisenman and sculptor Richard Serra, whose entry he backed earlier this year.

``He (Kohl) thinks the two artists' proposals to reach a broader consensus about the shape of this memorial are appropriate,'' Pfeifer said in a statement, adding this paved the way for a meeting between three parties set to decide.

``The German government has not changed its position in that the memorial...should be erected on the designated plot of land and Bonn will pay its share of the costs as agreed,'' he said.

Berlin's mayor Eberhard Diepgen told a newspaper last week none of the blueprints from which a winning design would be selected had convinced him it was possible ``to relate to this horror artistically.''

His comments cast doubt on whether the Berlin city-state government would approve the project and appeared to snub the Serra-Eisenman design Kohl favours.

Their entry envisages a graveyard-like labyrinth of 4,000 concrete pillars up to 7.5 metres (24 feet) tall.

Plans for the monument have provoked an emotional debate which goes to the heart of Germany's efforts to come to terms with its past.

A group of prominent Germans, including author Guenther Grass, urged Kohl in an open letter to abandon the project earlier this year.

Speaking in New York, the two artists told ZDF public German television channel in an interview that it was time the three parties made up their minds.

``I'm a leftwinger myself. I know the tendency toward over-analysing. But this leads to an intellectual impasse,'' said Eisenman.

``Now is the time. A decision has to be reached,'' he said. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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German bank says its gold might be Nazi loot
02:05 p.m Mar 23, 1998

FRANKFURT, March 23 (Reuters) - Deutsche Bank, Germany's largest commercial bank, said on Monday research showed that 323 kilos of gold it acquired just after World War Two might have been looted by the Nazis.

``Simply because of the chronological connection with World War Two we cannot rule out that this gold was looted,'' the bank said in a statement.

It said it had decided to donate the 5.6 million marks ($3 million) it received from selling the gold in 1995 to charities, including the World Jewish Restitution Organisation for Holocaust survivors.

Facing allegations that it profited from gold stolen by the Nazis from their victims, the bank last December appointed a team of historians to determine whether this was the case.

One television programme said specifically that Deutsche received 650 kilos of gold from the Reichsbank, Germany's central bank at the time.

An authorised history of the bank published in 1995 showed Deutsche profited from the sale of Jewish property but also revealed its links to the resistance against Adolf Hitler.

The bank commissioned the research into its own activities after it said it had no awareness of profiting from sales of such gold. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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French right stops Front drive but at high cost
01:43 p.m Mar 23, 1998

By Tom Heneghan

PARIS, March 23 (Reuters) - France's crumbling right wing pulled back from the brink on Monday, stopping the anti-foreigner National Front from taking over its first regional council.

But the battle ended with its ranks in sorry disarray.

Conservatives in the region around Marseille refused to heed Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen's call for them to support him as council chairman there in return for the Front's help in electing their colleagues in five other regions last Friday.

The right also looked set to refuse a deal with the extreme-right Front in the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France, which would let the left win there as it did in Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur after Le Pen's bold bid for power failed.

Two conservatives, Gaullist Jean-Paul Gauzes in Haute-Normandie and Marc Sensi of the centrist Union for French Democracy (UDF) in Midi-Pyranees, resigned after being elected regional chairmen with support from Front councillors.

With his conservative camp in disarray over its stand toward the Front, Gaullist President Jacques Chirac announced he would address the nation on television on Monday evening.

Socialist Michel Vauzelle, who won the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur race, paid tribute to the conservatives who refused to break the long-standing taboo against deals with the anti-foreigner Front.

``At a difficult time, they showed their loyalty to the values on which our republic was founded,'' said Vauzelle, a former justice minister in the 1980s.

The vote in Marseille, the third-largest of France's 22 regions, put an initial stop to the dramatic sudden rise in the Front's role from a nuisance fringe to a kingmaker able to sow bitter discord among Gaullists and centrists.

But even without winning Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, it could claim victory for its aggressive new strategy.

Francois Leotard, national leader of the UDF, was humiliated when only 19 of the 37 right-wing councillors in Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur voted for him. Nine cast their ballots for another conservative hoping to win with Front votes.

Controversy also raged around former defence minister Charles Millon of the UDF, who won reelection last Friday in the Rhone-Alpes region with Front help.

Chirac aides said the president had called Millon to urge him in vain to avoid any deal with the Front. Former Prime Minister Raymond Barre, mayor of the region's largest city Lyon, said his former ally had committed a ``grave political error.''

Millon hit back in Le Monde, denying any deal and calling for a radical reform that would revitalise the right and shrink the Front ``to a few percent of residual fascists.''

``I prefer to shock the right now than to let it rot over the next 10 years while the extreme right grows,'' he wrote.

Even Le Pen called on Millon to resign after he wrote in Le Monde that the Front, which won 15.5 percent in the March 15 regional polls, was led ``by a fanatic, a fascist from the 1920s who has strayed into our era.''

Herve de Charette, a former foreign minister, said his UDF had to expel the five renegades who defied Leotard and accepted election with Front help last Friday.

In a preview of the debate to come, he also delivered a blistering criticism of the way the UDF and Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR) had behaved in recent years.

``Whenever it has been in power since 1981, the right has not been able to find solutions to the problems facing the French,'' he told Le Monde in an interview.

``Unemployment, urban crime, globalisation -- all this demands political innovation, energy, attractive leaders and political courage that we have to admit has been cruelly absent,'' he said.

``We have only had technocrats who stubbornly pursued the same policies without ever listening to popular complaints.''

The regional council in Franche-Comte, where UDF candidate Jean-Francois Humbert quit last Friday after winning with Front votes, announced it would restage its election on April 3. REUTERS

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Turbulent French vote spells defeat for Le Pen
07:50 p.m Mar 23, 1998

By Bernard Edinger

PARIS, March 24 (Reuters) - Far-rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen, for several days the kingmaker of French politics, was thwarted on Tuesday when the centre-right preferred to lose control of the key Paris region rather than deal with him.

Le Pen had offered to back centre-right parties in the race for the chairmanship of the Ile-de-France region which includes the capital if they backed his bid to become chairman of the Provence-Alpes-Cotes d'Azur region.

The chairmanship of Provence-Alpes-Cotes d'Azur, would have given him unprecedented power and created an earthquake in French politics.

Le Pen's anti-foreigner National Front threw the mainstream right into crisis last week when five conservatives broke a taboo and tacitly accepted its help to win election as council chairmen in their regions.

The Front was kingmaker in those regions because of its 15.5 percent nationwide share of the vote in regional elections on March 15.

But Le Pen's bid for open deals was too much for the leaders of the centre-right. President Jacques Chirac weighed in against him on Monday, publicly describing the Front as racist, xenophobic and a danger for democracy.

Conservatives who might have otherwise backed Le Pen prevented his election in Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur where Socialist Michel Vauzelle was elected chairman of the region, which includes the Riviera.

In the Paris vote early on Tuesday, conservative Dominique Versini preferred to stand down after two rounds, handing victory to Socialist Jean-Paul Huchon, than risk election with the support of the Front.

Huchon got the votes of 87 councillors elected on March 15 against 36 for National Front candidate Jean-Yves Le Gallou and three for ultra-leftist Arlette Laguiller.

The councillors from Versini's neo-Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR) and the allied Union for French Democracy (UDF) did not vote.

It was the first time the left had taken control of the the Ile-de-France region.

An outraged Le Pen denounced Chirac, saying the president was ``an infamous liar'' who together with his allies ``were probably the most immoral leaders France has ever known.''

He said French conservatives were cowed by a left-wing political correctness that ``bends all politicians to its will as if they were hot spaghetti.''

Clearly impressed by the changing tide, two of the five new conservative regional chairmen elected with National Front help resigned.

Another, former defence minister Charles Millon, the most influential politician to initially accept Le Pen's backing, penned a newspaper article on Monday denouncing him as being like a 1920s fascist.

Le Pen demanded Millon's resignation, saying he had been cheated.

``I feel we are losing sight of things, I feel that passion has taken over from reason, I feel we risk harming France, its values and its image,'' Chirac said in his television address.

``The time has come to react,'' and it was time to defend French ``liberty, equality and fraternity,'' he said.

Chirac also accused Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's left-wing coalition of fanning the Front debate to discredit the right-wing Jospin unexpectedly beat in last year's general election.

``It is not healthy to pour oil on the fire,'' he said, reminding the left that they had introduced the proportional representation system in the 1980s that enabled the Front to play such a key role in the regional elections this month.

Condemning RPR and UDF councillors who argued it was better to align with the Front than let regions fall to a coalition of Socialists, Communists and Greens, Chirac said: ``I can only disapprove of those who preferred political games to the voice of their conscience.''

Chirac said that he would consult all mainstream parties to work out proposals to change French electoral laws, clearly seeking new ways to keep the National Front out of power. REUTERS

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Front strategist Megret winner in French turmoil
07:58 a.m. Mar 23, 1998

By Tom Heneghan

PARIS, March 23 (Reuters) - Amid all the winners and losers in France's political free-for-all, none stands more triumphant than the one who started it all -- the far-right National Front's chief strategist Bruno Megret.

Short and intense, Megret masterminded the tactical flip-flop that put the shunned Front at the heart of French politics last week and started ringing the death knell for the centre-right as France now knows it.

At 48, the graduate of the elite Ecole Polytechnique is still number two to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the blustery old paratrooper who founded the anti-foreigner Front 25 years ago.

The closest he comes to actual power now is as spokesman for his wife Catherine, elected mayor of Vitrolles near Marseille last year in his place because he was declared ineligible due to past campaign spending irregularities.

But the party intellectual believes in the power of ideas, and his particular blend of hard-edged nationalism and tactical cunning have paved the way for the Front's breakthrough.

The Front was now ``a party of government,'' he crowed last week after helping conservatives win control of five of France's 22 regional councils in a manoeuvre that stunned the rest of the country's political class.

Le Pen overplayed his hand on Monday by demanding that conservatives back him for chairman of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur (PACA) region because the Front helped their colleagues elsewhere. They refused and a Socialist was elected.

But the damage Megret sought had already been done.

The mainstream right, President Jacques Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR) and its Union for French Democracy (UDF) partners, was in tatters and without a strategy after the defections.

``The right has exploded,'' said Megret.

``Whenever the RPR and UDF play their strategy of aligning neither with the left nor with National Front, the left wins and the right disappears,'' he concluded after the PACA vote showed the mainstream right split into three different camps.

Megret, who was rising up the RPR ranks before he veered to the far-right in the 1980s, represents a dynamic successor generation to the old Vichy collaborators, colonial warriors and French chauvinists normally seen as the Front's main supporters.

More pragmatic but no less ideological, these Front militants have been working for years to build up local structures like youth clubs and leadership training courses to prepare the party for the day it comes to power.

Thanks to Le Pen's stinging demagoguery and rising public concern about immigration and crime, the Front has grown over the years to claim 15 percent of the national vote.

But the limits to Le Pen's ``all-or-nothing'' approach became apparent last year when his implacable opposition to the mainstream right meant he effectively threw the election to the united left led by Socialist Lionel Jospin.

After that surprise last June, Megret stepped up his push for an alternative strategy to create a united counter-movement on the right -- under Front leadership, of course.

Le Pen, who shifted gears last week to accept Megret's approach, translated that into his more earthy language as a plan to ``drain the pond'' between the Front and the left, where the mainstream right now stands.

Although Megret never denied this, some conservatives saw his vision as the way forward after their leader, RPR President Jacques Chirac, gambled away their overwhelming majority by dissolving the National Assembly last year.

At least two prominent figures, former UDF defence minister Charles Millon and former RPR secretary general Jean-Francois Mancel, were convinced the Front should be ``part of tomorrow's right-wing.'' When mainstream politicians decried them as opportunists, it was Megret who rushed to their rescue.

But Megret, who caricaturists portray as a ``Goebbels'' to Le Pen's ``Hitler,'' quickly betrayed how thin his support was for the conservatives caught between the left and the Front.

``It's true they're caught in the pincers, but that's their problem,'' he declared on Sunday evening.

A key part of the strategy was to offer the right support if it agreed to a minimal programme with common goals such as tax cuts, crime-fighting and protection of French culture.

The Front's controversial ``national preference,'' which in Vitrolles has been achieved through ``baby bonus'' money for each French or European child born there, was cleverly left out.

But Megret's race-based outlook, the aspect that brings him closest to the Front's image as latter-day Nazis, is hardly likely to disappear.

After Megret, the other big winner of this political upheaval was one who did not live to see it happen.

The late Socialist President Francois Mitterrand, as Machiavellian a strategist as Megret, opened the door to the National Front in the 1980s by bringing in the proportional representation voting system that favours fringe parties.

His goal, like Megret's, was to split the mainstream right. REUTERS

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Meeting of Canadian far-right activists fizzles
03:18 p.m Mar 22, 1998

OLIVER, British Columbia, March 22 (Reuters) - A weekend meeting of Canadian ultra-right activists ended with fewer people than organizers had hoped for and without the violence authorities feared, officials and news reports said on Sunday.

About 40 residents of this rural community on Saturday protested against the gathering, hosted by the owner of a local computer company that provides Internet sites to groups voicing anti-Semitic and white supremacist opinions.

Bernard Klatt said he hosted the meeting to promote free speech and he hoped the gathering, advertised through the Internet, would attract a large crowd.

But local news reports said only a handful of people showed up to support Klatt, who was denied access to the town's community center at the last minute because officials feared violence.

Police said no trouble was reported.

Local officials have complained about negative international publicity they say Klatt has brought to this small town 175 miles (280 km) east of Vancouver, not far from the U.S. border. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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FOCUS-Catholic-Jewish talks in shadow of Holocaust
10:32 a.m. Mar 22, 1998

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY, March 22 (Reuters) - Jewish leaders from around the world on Monday begin four days of meetings with Vatican officials that will be overshadowed by the Holy See's controversial document on the Holocaust.

The talks were arranged well before the document, ``We Remember, a Reflection on the Shoah,'' was issued last Monday but it is now expected to be a major topic of discussion.

The Jewish leaders will hold talks with the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, which wrote the Holocaust document.

One of the main themes on the agenda is: ``Education -- What and how do we and ought we teach about each other.''

The meetings, which end on Thursday with an audience with Pope John Paul, have become more topical following the Pope's strong defence of his wartime predecessor Pius XII against accusations that he did not do enough to stop the Holocaust.

``He was a great Pope,'' John Paul said of Pius XII when asked by reporters aboard the plane taking him to Nigeria on Saturday about the reaction to the Vatican's landmark document.

Jews reacted coolly to the long-awaited document and many were particularly irritated by its defence of Pius, whom it effectively absolved of long-standing accusations that he facilitated the Holocaust by remaining silent.

The Vatican's position is that Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, did not speak out more forcefully for fear of worsening the fate of Catholics, as well as Jews, in Germany and Nazi-occupied countries.

Jewish leaders reacted negatively to the Pope's defence of Pius as a ``great Pope.''

``I don't know how the Pope comes up with something like that. I really don't know,'' Ignatz Bubis, chairman of Central Council of Jews in Germany, said on Sunday.

``The report was not satisfactory. It is said that under Pius XII the Catholic Church saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Well, those people aren't here. It was several hundred whose lives were saved,'' Bubis told Reuters in Frankfurt.

French Jewish leaders also were not pleased.

``Pope John Paul II promised to shed light on the Church's responsibility concerning the Shoah,'' said Henri Hajdenberg, head of the CRIF, umbrella group of French Jewish organisations.

``We understand that John Paul II cannot denounce the positions taken by Pope Pius XII, one of his predecessors. But more than 50 years after the Shoah, the time of the heirs has come. It is regrettable to see John Paul II defending Pius XII unconditionally,'' Hajdenberg told Reuters in Paris.

``Even if there is no question that Pius XII personally saved thousands of Jews, it is undeniable that he could have saved hundreds of thousands of others if he had revealed the existence and condemned the mass killings of Jews in the east and the extermination camps, which he knew about from 1942,'' he said.

Some said the Vatican wants end the debate on Pius.

``Apparently the decision has been made to defend the pontificate of Pius without further debate,'' a Jewish leader who will attend the talks told Reuters, asking to remain anonymous.

The Vatican's document on the Holocaust apologised for individual Catholics who failed to help Jews. Jewish leaders criticised what they said was the Catholic Church's failure to address its preaching of anti-Jewish contempt for centuries.

They said this made the ground fertile for the worst manifestation of anti-Semitism in the Holocaust.

The Pope told reporters aboard his plane that a ``a sufficient response has already been given'' to the accusations.

The Pontiff told reporters to read the writings of Father Pierre Blet, a Jesuit who is the Roman Catholic Church's leading historian of the World War Two era.

Blet is the last surviving member of a team of Church historians allowed to look into the Vatican's World War Two archives to rebut the accusations against Pius. They produced an 11-volume study from 1965 to 1981.

Blet repeated the defence last week in the influential Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica.

``The apparent silence hid a secret action carried out (by Pius) through nunciatures (Vatican embassies) and episcopates to avoid, or at least to limit, the deportations, the violence, the persecutions,'' Blet wrote.

``Public declarations (by Pius) would not have done anything. They only would have aggravated the fate of the victims and multiplied their numbers,'' he wrote. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Far-right Austrian party gains in regional election
02:38 p.m Mar 22, 1998

VIENNA, March 22 (Reuters) - Austria's far-right Freedom Party increased its share of the vote by a third in a regional election in the province of Lower Austria on Sunday, provisional results showed.

The conservative People's Party, junior partner in Chancellor Viktor Klima's grand coalition at national level, retained power in the regional parliament in St Poelten with a virtually unchanged 44.8 percent of the vote.

Klima's Social Democrats remained the second largest party but their share of the vote fell 3.5 percent to 30.5 percent.

The Freedom Party, led nationally by Joerg Haider, won 16.1 percent, up from 12.05 percent in 1993 in the last election in Austria's largest province.

The party favours strict curbs on immigration, wants the introduction of a single European currency to be delayed and opposes the enlargement of the European Union to include the former communist countries of central and Europe.

The environmentalist Greens won seats in the Lower Austria parliament for the first time after clearing the necessary four percent threshold.

Political commentators said the result was not a pointer to national sentiment as the People's Party had governed Lower Austria without interruption since the end of World War Two and the election was fought mainly on local issues.

The Freedom Party's result was below the 22.1 percent it won in December 1995 elections to the national parliament in Vienna, where it is the main opposition party. The next national elections are due in 1999.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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FOCUS-Battered French right braces for more shocks
04:15 p.m Mar 22, 1998

By Tom Heneghan

PARIS, March 22 (Reuters) - French conservatives, reeling from a political earthquake set off by the far-right National Front, prepared on Sunday for serious aftershocks as more regions prepared to elect new council chairmen this week.

If the tremors come with maximum force, the mainstream right could be split into new formations instead of the current alliance of President Jacques Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR) and the centrist Union for French Democracy (UDF).

The next jolts could come as early as Monday, when the Front plays kingmaker in four of France's 22 regional councils set to meet to elect their new chairmen. Two of France's largest regions, around Paris and Marseille, are at stake.

``What we are watching is the disintegration of the right-wing,'' commented historian Rene Remond. ``These elections will have national ramifications.''

``Slowly but surely, we are heading for a big crisis,'' said Pascal Perrineau, head of the CEVIPOF political studies centre.

Politicians spent Sunday wondering whether another vote -- local polls in about half of the country -- would signal voter reaction to the deals, but first returns showed no pattern.

The united left looked set to take about 10 departments from the right, but that would leave the conservatives still in charge of about 65 of France's 95 departments.

The right got its first taste of the turbulence yet to come when Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen on Saturday demanded its help to win in his Riviera stronghold after his forces hoisted conservatives into power in five regions last week.

His ultra-nationalist deputy Bruno Megret threatened the Front would block the mainstream right from winning the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France if it did not help Le Pen become regional council chairman in Provence-Alpes-Cotes d'Azur (PACA).

That trap meant former RPR Prime Minister Edouard Balladur in Ile-de-France and UDF leader Francois Leotard in PACA looked set to lose out whether they stepped aside to let the left win or sullied their hands to gain power with the Front.

Polls say two-thirds of the electorate oppose the deals, despite the willingness of many councillors to work with the Front rather than let their regions switch to the left.

Former Prime Minister Raymond Barre said Charles Millon, a former defence minister who accepted Front support to win in Rhone-Alpes, had committed ``a grave political error.'' Chirac also telephoned Millon on Sunday, but the reelected chairman rejected mounting calls for him to quit.

``Is there a pilot in this airplane?'' the Journal du Dimanche newspaper asked in a bewildered review of the past week. ``It's clear that no political leader is in control of events.''

The Front's stunning tactical offensive turned last Sunday's voting for France's 22 weak regional councils into a show of force that threatens to overrun the battered conservative camp.

The long-shunned Front got its big break last week when it helped minority conservatives block left-wing victories in five regions by voting for their candidates for council chairman.

These deals, which broke a 15-year taboo against working with the Front, unmasked a deep split in a right-wing still reeling from its defeat in last year's general election.

The Gaullist RPR mostly held firm, but its UDF allies split over whether to count the hard-line right among ``the conservatives of tomorrow'' able to defeat Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's ``plural left'' of Socialists, Communists and Greens.

The political free-for-all should continue on Monday in the PACA, Ile-de-France, Haute-Normandie and Midi-Pyrenees regions.

A fifth, Franche-Comte, may also restage its vote on Monday after the UDF winner there on Friday resigned rather than accept being elected with the Front votes cast for him.

Corsica, which uses a different voting system from the rest of the country for its regional elections, elected RPR candidate Jean Baggioni as its regional council chairman.

These topsy-turvy elections have turned what looked like a left-wing victory -- the plural left won a relative majority of the vote in about half the regions -- into a surprise victory for the right, which now has 13 regions to the left's three.

Although the Front did not demand its right-wing allies implement its staunchly anti-foreigner policies, the aspect of the Front other parties find the most odious, commentators did not believe the day they call in that debt can be far off.

``Now that the wall that separated the National Front from the other parties has fallen, anything is possible,'' Remond said. ``If the right does not regain control of itself, it is doomed to become a servant of the Front.'' REUTERS

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Bomb From WWII Kills 5 Filipinos

Sunday, March 22, 1998; 12:29 p.m. EST

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- A World War II bomb dug up by treasure hunters exploded Sunday when the men pounded it with a hammer to try to open it. Five people were killed, officials said.

Police said the men dug up the bomb along with empty bomb shells last month in the town of Teresa in Rizal province, 22 miles east of Manila.

The men stored the two-foot bomb and shells in a house. On Sunday, they tried to open the explosive by pounding it with a hammer, police and local radio said.

The men died instantly.

Some nearby homes were damaged.

U.S. and Japanese bombs are still being found in the Philippines more than 50 years after the war.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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New Zealand Racial Attacks Persist

By Peter James Spielmann
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, March 17, 1998; 7:12 a.m. EST

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) -- Jimmy and Mailing Liu, who moved here from China a year ago, are taking a crash course in English after getting acquainted with their neighbors.

``Help!'' and ``They've got a gun!'' are two expressions the couple have practiced since they discovered that they live next to a group of teen-age skinheads with a muddled neo-Nazi ideology.

The Lius, from Guangzhou province, called police after someone fired pellets from an air gun into their upscale Auckland apartment twice last week, barely missing 68-year-old Jimmy's head on one occasion. They say they have been harassed for months.

The shootings were the latest of several racist attacks that have outraged New Zealanders, perpetrated by tiny but persistent groups of neo-Nazi youths.

Last year, Christchurch, a politically progressive South Island city, was mortified when local skinheads confronted a Nigerian-born man and his family at a beach, pushed them around shouting ``Sieg Heil'' and making Nazi salutes.

Hundreds of bystanders watched but only two dared to intervene. That set off months of soul-searching among New Zealanders, who like to think their society is as tolerant as it is racially diverse.

The population of 3.6 million is about 80 percent white, 14 percent indigenous Maori, 5 percent Pacific islanders and about 1 percent Asian.

Racist attacks have become more obvious as more Asian immigrants and African and Muslim refugees have settled in New Zealand in the past five years.

``The whole country was outraged,'' said University of Canterbury sociologist Greg Newbold of the beach attack.

A former member of the gang that harassed the Lius said the group attacks Asians and Polynesians for fun.

``If you are not white, you are just ... an inferior race,'' 17-year-old Julian Molony told the New Zealand Herald on Monday.

The leader of the group, 18-year-old Casey Jale, said the group had been shooting at a moth trap near the Lius' apartment, not at the Lius.

He said he believed in white power but was not racist.

``They have no need to be scared of us. We don't have any pure racial hatred that would make us go out and hurt someone. We respect anyone who will respect us.''

Police say an 18-year-old member of the gang has been summoned to face a charge of discharging a firearm near a dwelling.

area Chief Police Inspector John Palmer said he found the skinheads' views ``distasteful and unacceptable ... but we can't go arresting people just because of their beliefs.''

The skinheads have at most a few dozen members in any one locale.

``They have low self-esteem, so they feel uplifted by feeling superior to some other group, race, or class,'' Newbold said.

Attacks on immigrants or refugees get wide publicity, but it is difficult to determine whether they are growing in number, partly because ``hate crimes'' are not a separately categorized crime here.

On Monday, a Chinese-born member of Parliament, Pansy Wong, called for such a separation, partly so that the extent of hate crimes can be tracked.

Felicity Jardine, a social worker who assists refugees in the Christchurch area, said that while overt attacks are bad enough, smaller daily humiliations are perhaps just as demoralizing.

``It tends to be things like ... being spat at, or their children being persecuted at school,'' she said. ``It's kind of constant, on-the-street stuff that is hard to observe or make a formal response to.''

A more subtle form of racism played a part in the 1996 election, when a new populist party formed by Winston Peters came from nowhere to capture 14 percent of the national vote, partly riding on anger over increasing immigration.

Peters never named Asians as the targets of his anti-immigration platform, but voters made the connection.

Many prosperous Hong Kong Chinese took out New Zealand citizenship and bought homes here in recent years, as a hedge against political instability when China took over Hong Kong in 1997.

They sometimes have found themselves resented by their white or Maori neighbors for their relative wealth. Young Chinese driving BMWs or other luxury cars have had eggs or full beer cans thrown at them.

Peters' New Zealand First party won a big enough victory to make Peters the new treasurer and deputy prime minister. But his popularity has plummeted as he has failed to get the coalition government to implement policies including his pledge to ``cut immigration to the bone.''

The government recently announced plans to ensure New Zealand grows by an average 35,000 immigrants a year, a far cry from Peters' demand to limit it to 10,000 a year.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press


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