English News Archive

News between March 24, and April 4, reversely ordered by date (i.e.: the newest can be found on top). For recent news select English News.


Headlines


Wednesday March 25 3:27 PM EST

Canada's hate Web sites draw calls for legal sanctions

By Robert Cribb

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Wired) - A collection of Web sites promoting white supremacy and Holocaust revisionism have cast a spotlight on a British Columbia Internet service provider and prompted calls for stricter Canadian hate laws governing the Internet.

Bernard Klatt, who runs Fairview Technology Centre (http://www.ftcnet.com) out of his rural home in Oliver, British Columbia, has been called Canada's largest purveyor of Internet hate literature.

About a dozen of his neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and skinhead clients have used his server to publish material railing against immigration and "the homosexual agenda" while celebrating "Euro-Christianity" and Hitler's accomplishments.

Last Saturday, Klatt was planning to hold a "free-speech" seminar in his hometown featuring a who's who of Canada's far right. But at the last minute, town officials canceled his rental agreement for the community hall where the meeting was scheduled.

"We took action to protect the community from violence," said Oliver Mayor Linda Larson. "(Klatt) started advertising on an international level (via the Internet) and that attracted the extreme element from both sides of the issue."

So Klatt turned the occasion into an outdoor press conference, complete with about 100 protesters, accusing town officials of abridging free speech.

"The whole thing made an excellent point as to why we need an uncensored Internet," he later said in an interview. "If you can't hold a public meeting to discuss free speech, at least there's a possibility of getting information out over the Internet."

Klatt's case has drawn the interest of British Columbia Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh, who is calling on the Canadian federal government to draft tougher laws governing those who publish "hate propaganda" of the Internet.

"We're looking at making the federal law that applies to hate propaganda and hatred more enforceable," said Brent Thompson, media spokesman for Dosanjh, who is also British Columbia's minister responsible for multiculturalism, human rights, and immigration. "We need to look at the law, review it, and possibly amend it so that we can successfully prosecute these matters."

But the weekend's developments are only the latest in a long string of controversies surrounding Klatt.

---

The Charlemagne Hammer Skinheads, a group of British and French skinheads who used Klatt's server to publish a Web site mocking Jews and minorities, were recently charged with uttering threats and various other crimes.

After the site was traced to Klatt's server last year, the town of Oliver was dubbed "Hate Capital of Canada" by Sol Littman, the Canadian representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

"(Klatt's site) has the most out-and-out racist, fascist, anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying Web sites in Canada by a wide margin, and the material on it is the most hateful and despicable and dangerous of any I've seen," Littman said.

But even though government officials, Jewish groups, and some of Klatt's neighbors have been trying to shut him down for more than a year, Klatt says he and his clients are breaking no laws.

"The right to express your point of view exists in Canada even if a pressure group doesn't like it," he said. "Our court system should uphold the laws we have around speech. We shouldn't be subject to proxy censorship by the Wiesenthal Center or community groups."

For speech to be illegal according to Canadian law, it has to promote hatred against an identifiable group, advocate "genocide" or incite "hatred to such an extent that it will lead to a breach of the peace."

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Corporal Walt Makepeace, stationed in Oliver, said there is an investigation into the material posted on the Fairview site, but no charges have been laid.

Nor should there be, says David Jones, president of Electronic Frontier Canada, a national group defending freedom of expression and the right to privacy in cyberspace.

"People don't realize that it's legal to hate in Canada," he said. "It's unpleasant, but it's not a criminal act. (Klatt's) pages are offensive, but they're legal."

Not so, says Littman.

"It's a clear breach of the law. If the same things were written and published on paper, the police would be on his doorstep the next day. We can't figure out why electronic publishing would be treated any differently."

Klatt is following in the much publicized footsteps of Ernst Zündel, a Toronto-based Holocaust denier who is also on the Canadian legal hotseat for publishing so-called hate literature on the Internet.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission is holding hearings to decide whether Zautndelsite, a California-based site featuring Zautndel's writings - violates Canada's hate laws. Unlike Zautndel, Klatt concedes that some of the information on his Web server is objectionable. But he insists it isn't his job to censor. "I don't see the news media accusing theater owners of having poor morals because of the kind of movies they show in their theaters, or cable company management being responsible for movies on television," he said in an interview after the weekend incidents. "I don't support the content in some of the sites. I just want to allow them to express their viewpoints." (Reuters/Wired)

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font size="+1"Holocaust Site Uses New Software to Post Nazi Trial Transcripts on the Internet
10:51 a.m. Mar 24, 1998

NEW YORK, March 24 /PRNewswire/ -- Transcripts from the Nuremberg trials of convicted Nazi war criminals are now available to Internet users, posted to the Web by Nizkor, www.nizkor.org, using Metaphoria Data Transformation Server (DTS) 1.1 -- new software introduced today by Pencom Web Works, www.pww.pencom.com.

Pencom made beta versions of Metaphoria DTS available to Nizkor at no charge, to help the volunteer organization combat anti-Semitic propaganda posted to the Internet by neo-Nazis, skinheads and white supremacists claiming the Holocaust did not happen.

Metaphoria DTS culls and integrates database, spreadsheet, electronic mail, text, graphics and other digital information for display in a Web browser, generating Internet, Intranet and Extranet pages that are tailored on the fly for each user.

Using Metaphoria DTS to automate the process of formatting text for display on the Web, Nizkor posted two transcript volumes and half of a third in one week.

By comparison, it took Nizkor one month to manually convert a fourth volume into transcribed text and then HTML code -- and a year to complete the transcription and posting of a fifth volume, funded by a grant that permitted Nizkor to hire a programmer.

Nizkor estimates manual transcription of the Metaphoria-posted volumes would have taken three months -- plus another three months to convert the transcribed text into HTML.

"The significance is stunning," said Kenneth McVay, director of Nizkor. "We're buried in information, but have no time to process it for posting. It's tedious to convert it manually. By hand, we can add 7,000 to 8,000 pages per year. With Metaphoria, we have the potential for 850,000 pages. Without Metaphoria, we would probably never be able to add that much information in our lifetime.

"Information is currency on the Web, and the plan now is to get more information," said McVay, who launched Nizkor's Web site with 27 pages and 30 megabytes of Holocaust information in 1995 -- on the anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birthday, April 20.

Metaphoria DTS is a server-side Java Application Development Platform. It enables application developers to divorce raw data from the way it is presented, creating an environment that connects any kind of network- accessible data to a Web browser. It resides between the server and the data, using scriptable templates to retrieve and present content -- potentially displaying thousands of Web pages based on as few as 10 or 20 templates.

Metaphoria DTS is designed for business users that want to provide quick and easy access to data from multiple sources and, especially, legacy applications -- no matter where the data is stored and how it was created -- to any desktop computer, either across a corporate network or via the Internet.

Users do not need to cobble together expensive, time-consuming, hard-to- develop custom applications, convert incompatible data from diverse applications into one common format, move data to one shared repository, or deal with the nightmare of creating and updating duplicate data in multiple formats.

Pencom Web Works, based in New York, develops sophisticated business applications running in a Web environment, including the deployment of legacy data to the Web, Intranet or Extranet. The company is a startup business unit of Pencom Systems Inc. (PSI) Founded in 1973 as a recruiting firm for the computer industry, PSI today comprises a constellation of technology businesses and a business incubator with combined projected 1998 revenues of $120 million. SOURCE Pencom Web Works

Copyright 1998, PR Newswire

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Gunmakers Not Liable for Shooting Death
04:18 p.m Mar 27, 1998

By Adam Cataldo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - In the first U.S. jury trial of whether gunmakers should be liable for firearms used in crimes, a jury decided Friday a gunmaker and several sellers of gun parts were not liable for the shooting of three people.

The case marked the first time a gun manufacturer and its owners were brought to trial for selling a weapon or gun parts used in a crime.

The verdict came in the trial of a lawsuit filed by the parents of Aaron Halberstam who was killed four years ago when Lebanese taxi driver Rashid Baz opened fire on a van filled with Jewish students on the Brooklyn Bridge. Halberstam, 16, was killed and Nachum Sosonkin and Levi Wilhelm were injured.

Baz was convicted of murder and attempted murder.

Halberstam's parents sued Wayne and Sylvia Daniel of Duckworth, Tennessee, and seven firearm-manufacturing companies owned by the Daniels.

Devorah and David Halberstam claimed the Daniels were negligent in selling gun-making kits for $150 to $200 because anyone could buy them by telephone without a background check.

The Daniels said there was no evidence linking them to the murder.

But defense attorney Daniel Kane compared the lawsuit to suing an automobile manufacturer over a car accident.

``We felt that the case was ill-conceived in its inception that the plaintiffs -- the Center for Handgun Control and the New York Lawyers Committee on Violence had a legislative agenda which they attempted to pursue through the U.S. District Court,'' Kane said.

But Richard Davis, attorney for the Halberstams, said, ''What is clear is that the violent use of this weapon was clearly foreseeable by the defendants.''

The lawsuit alleged that a Cobray MAC 11/9 automatic pistol, one of two weapons found after Baz was arrested, appealed to criminals because it does not carry a serial number and the manufacturer did not keep sales records.

``It was the enlightened consciousness of the people of New York who said (while) they do not like guns ... they do not find the manufacturer, marketer or advertiser of firearms or firearms parts liable for the intervening criminal act of a third party,'' Kane said.

Defense attorneys tried to get Baz to testify that he bought the gun on the street and not by mail order. But in court he refused to answer questions.

The companies named in the lawsuit were S.W. Daniel Inc., Mountain Accessories Corp., Cobray Firearms Inc., Full Metal Jacket, Ultra Force Inc., R.P.B. Industries and Leinad. The companies sold gun kits by mail.

A similar lawsuit filed by New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed and son injured by gunman Colin Ferguson on board a commuter train in New York, was dismissed.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Harvard Won't Have Holocaust Study

By Robin Estrin
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, March 24, 1998; 5:18 p.m. EST

BOSTON (AP) -- More than three years after Harvard received a $3 million pledge to create a chairmanship in Holocaust studies, the university has been unable to agree on a candidate, and about half of the gift has been quietly diverted to the medical school.

The impasse apparently resulted from academic infighting over how to teach the Holocaust: as a study of Jewish victims and Judaic culture, or as a historical analysis of the Nazi perpetrators.

The candidacy of Daniel J. Goldhagen, an associate Harvard professor, also disturbed some members of the search committee.

Goldhagen's controversial 1996 best-selling book, ``Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust,'' contends that ordinary Germans, not just the Nazis, were responsible for the killing of 6 million Jews. He attributes the Holocaust to deep-seated German anti-Semitism.

By failing to appoint a professor, some say, Harvard missed an opportunity to take the lead as a center of Holocaust scholarship. Although many universities teach the Holocaust through history, religion or literature courses, few of the country's top schools have Holocaust specialists.

``I think it's appalling that Harvard is not endorsing this field of study and is not standing behind it,'' Deborah Dwork, who runs the new Center for Holocaust Studies at Clark University in Worcester, said Tuesday.

In 1994, Kenneth Lipper, a philanthropist, businessman and former New York deputy mayor, endowed the Helen Zelaznik Chair in Holocaust and Cognate Studies to honor a family member who was killed in the Holocaust. Lipper's only condition was that the professor be hired with tenure.

Harvard would not have offered a degree in Holocaust studies. But students would have been able to take courses specifically on the Nazi annihilation of 6 million Jews. Currently, Harvard has no courses that focus exclusively on the Holocaust.

A committee of Harvard professors began interviewing scholars in 1995 but could not recommend a candidate, said Harvard spokesman Alex Huppe.

Goldhagen was said to be Lipper's top choice, but Harvard officials said that would have had no bearing on the selection.

The candidates also included Christopher Browning of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash.; Dan Diner, a history professor at German and Israeli universities; Samuel Kassow, a professor at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.; Omer Bartov, a professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.; and Saul Friedlander, a Holocaust scholar who teaches at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The committee wanted to hire Friedlander on a temporary basis while the search continued, but Lipper wasn't interested in a temporary scholar, said Charles Maier, a history professor who presided over the search.

``I am sorry that we do not have a professor in this field, but I think we were right not to be rushed into an appointment that might not have been optimal,'' he said.

A few months ago, Lipper decided he didn't want his gift to remain in limbo. He shifted $1 million plus interest to the Lipper Foundation, a fund he had already established at Harvard's medical school, Huppe said.

Both Harvard and Lipper still hope to establish the Holocaust chairmanship, the spokesman said. But the search has been put on hold.

Lipper did not return several calls for comment, but a friend said Lippero has been frustrated by Harvard's indecision.

``It breaks his heart what's happening at Harvard,'' said Michael Berenbaum, president of director Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

Harvard's problems highlight the difficulty academia has had in finding a place for the Holocaust in the curriculum.

Instead of treating it as a separate discipline, hndreds of American universities teach the Holocaust as part of other fields, such as European history, Jewish studies, sociology or comparative literature. Yeshiva University in New York, for example, integrates it into its Jewish history department.

Clark University this week became the first U.S. college to have two full-time endowed tenured professorships in Holocaust history. The university launched a Holocaust studies program for undergraduates last year and will admit its first graduate students in September.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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New brain gene therapy for Illinois girl
04:18 p.m Mar 25, 1998

PHILADELPHIA, March 25 (Reuters) - A four-year-old Illinois girl began an experimental gene therapy on Wednesday for a fatal brain disease that mainly afflicts children of East European and Ashkenazi Jewish origin, hospital officials said.

Doctors at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital inserted a catheter under the child's scalp that will serve as a gene delivery system to her brain for treatment against Canavan disease. There is no known cure for the disease.

Developed by doctors from Jefferson Medical College and Yale University, the treatment system has been tested only in laboratory animals.

Canavan is an inherited neurological disorder that occurs with the degeneration of the fatty myelin sheath that protects nerve endings in the brain. The process is caused by the absence of the Canavan gene and leads to a buildup of toxic compounds in brain tissue.

The symptoms that begin in early infancy, include mental retardation, loss of acquired motor skills, abnormal muscle tone, an abnormally large head, paralysis, blindness and deafness. Death usually occurs between ages five and seven.

Children descended from East European families and Ashkenazi Jews are most susceptible to the rare disorder.

Jefferson researchers won Food and Drug Administration approval to expand their work into a large Phase I clinical trial.

Doctors hope the trial also will lead to treatment for metabolic disorders such as Krabbe disease and provide insight into possible treatments for Parkinson's disease, strokes and epilepsy. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Greg Rickman, an aide to D'Amato, said April 23 was the day
01:02 p.m Mar 26, 1998

Greg Rickman, an aide to D'Amato, said April 23 was the day of rememberance for the Holocaust and that it might be possible to further extend the moratorium. ``If significant progress is made at that point, then perhaps (the banks) might be given 30 days more,'' he said. The extension would set a benchmark for the parties negotiating a possible global settlement of Holocaust claims over both looted assets and dormant accounts, the aide said.

Rickman spoke to reporters after meeting with a steering committtee of U.S. public finance officials which is hearing progress reports from the World Jewish Congress (WJC), U.S. and Swiss representatives and the three Swiss banks most at risk of sanctions. They are: Swiss Bank Corp Union Bank of Switzerland and CS Group The committe was expected to soon decide whether to recommend new sanctions against Swiss banks or to extend the moratorium it agreed in December.

In October, New York City stunned the banking community by taking action against one Swiss bank to signal its disapproval of how it treated Holocaust vitims. The city's lead was then followed by a handful of other states before the moratorium went into effect. The WJC, which has led efforts to force Swiss banks to answer claims they failed to return assets deposited by Holocaust victims, said it did not offer the committee any advice on sanctions. Elan Steinberg, WJC executive director, said, ``We gave no recommendation. We laid out where we think things are.''

Asked about the possibility the Swiss government might respond to any new sanctions with its own counter-measures, the D'Amato aide said, ``We strongly suggest that not happen...He (D'Amato) is very weary of imposing sanctions.'' But Rickman reiterated the senator's view that Swiss Bank and Union Bank should not be able to merge their U.S. operations until the Holocaust issues were resolved. He did not say whether the Swiss government would have to sign on to any global settlement of Holocaust claims. ``The banks are the ones holding the assets. The banks should be the ones returning the assets. He (D'Amato) wants justice for these claiments,'' Rickman said.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Swiss bank to settle with famous Holocaust victim
08:40 a.m. Mar 25, 1998

ZURICH, March 25 (Reuters) - A Swiss bank said on Wednesday it hoped to settle soon a Holocaust survivor's claim that it hoarded her family's wealth when she could not produce a death certificate for her father, who perished in a Nazi death camp.

Credit Suisse Is near a settlement with Estelle Sapir, 80, who made headlines around the world with her allegations that the bank turned her away cold-heartedly as she sought her father's money after the war, a bank spokesman said.

But he would not confirm a report in the newspaper Le Temps that Credit Suisse had offered her $50,000 to withdraw from a class-action suit filed in New York on behalf of thousands more Holocaust victims. Sapir now lives in New York.

``We are settling this individual case because a (business) relationship must have existed, but this is just an isolated case,'' the spokesman said.

``We can only confirm that such an individual case exists and we are in the process of resolving it. It is not completely negotiated and it is not signed yet, but we are in the process of resolving it.''

He added that the bank had continually paid out money from dormant accounts to people who come forward and show they are entitled to the funds.

Swiss banking officials said the Sapir case should not be seen as an indication that banks are about to come up with large sums for a global settlement of all Holocaust-era claims against them, as the World Jewish Congress (WJC) has proposed.

Exploratory talks among the banks, lawyers representing class-action claimants and the WJC have yet to lay the groundwork for such a global settlement, people familiar with the talks say.

``The conditions to reach a settlement do not exist at the moment. There is still a lot of work to do,'' one banker said.

``Exploratory talks are under way at the level of lawyers, but such settlements need a lot of time until serious negotiations can even begin,'' he said. ``It would be an illusion to believe this could happen overnight,'' he said.

``There is still nothing,'' another source added.

Finance officials in several U.S. states and cities have given Swiss banks until the end of this month to address Holocaust claims or face the prospect of boycotts.

A steering committee of finance officials meets in New York on Thursday to discuss how to proceed. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Swiss Banks Deny Global Accord on Holocaust
04:39 p.m Mar 27, 1998

By Michael Shields

ZURICH, Switzerland (Reuters) - Swiss banks denied Friday they had agreed to negotiate a sweeping settlement of Holocaust claims against Switzerland in order to escape U.S. boycotts, insisting only claims on banks themselves were on the table.

The Swiss government and central bank also made clear they had no part to play in new talks among the big three banks, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and lawyers for class-action plaintiffs who say the banks hoarded Holocaust victims' wealth.

It would be a mistake to suggest banks were ready to fund a global settlement of charges that neutral Switzerland took in looted art works, laundered Nazis' wealth or exploited slave labor in Swiss companies' foreign subsidiaries, officials said.

``Talking about a real global settlement is way far away, totally a different thing than we are talking about,'' said Paul Rhyn, a spokesman for Credit Suisse Group.

``It is a framework (agreement) now to go ahead and discuss details of the bank-related issues. It is not a global settlement in the common sense of the word,'' he added.

In a letter to WJC Secretary General Israel Singer, the chief executives of the three big banks said they welcomed the direct involvement of the WJC and lawyers for Holocaust victims who are suing the big banks for billions in talks under the aegis of U.S. Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat.

The talks aim for ``an honorable and moral conclusion through a global resolution of Holocaust-era issues directly related to our banks,'' the letter said.

But while WJC officials and Eizenstat emphasized the words ``global resolution,'' Swiss banks stressed the words ``directly related to our banks.''

``It was clearly only related to bank matters,'' one source familiar with the discussions said. ``The agreement was only on structural things. There was no talk of money.''

News of the accord after months of hard bargaining came as U.S. public finance officials were set to recommend Swiss bank boycotts after a moratorium on such moves expires March 31.

The finance officials agreed to hold off on sanctions for now while monitoring the progress of the talks.

Swiss bankers shied from using the word breakthrough to describe developments, but said it was an important step forward to get the WJC and the class-action lawyers together in one forum that could try to thrash out a settlement.

This solves the problem of dealing with several rival claimants who would not all necessarily sign on to a settlement, thus effectively scuppering any hopes for such a deal.

Bern officials stressed that they had not gone back on their refusal to spend taxpayers' money on any settlement.

``This is still a matter of talks among the banks, lawyers in the class-action suits and now the World Jewish Congress,'' added Marietta Kerman, a spokeswoman for the Swiss government task force responding to Holocaust-era charges.

``The Swiss government and Swiss authorities are still not involved in these talks,'' she said.

The Swiss National Bank added that the central bank would not get involved in the talks. ``The answer clearly is that there is no possibility for us to do that,'' an SNB spokesman said.

A first round of talks is supposed to start April 24, but it was still unclear who would take part, officials said.

Swiss Bankers Association spokeswoman Silva Motile said she was disappointed U.S. local government officials had not lifted once and for all the threat of sanctions as a way to press banks into settling wartime claims.

Madeleine Kinin, Washington's ambassador to Switzerland, told Swiss Radio International: ``The ideal conclusion would be a settlement where Switzerland would be in a position as saying we have done the right thing and countries around the world would be able to say justice has been done.

``We must remember this issue is all about survivors and victims of the Holocaust. The longer we delay, the less likely there will be beneficiaries. It is important to reach a conclusion and to reach it soon.''

Officials stressed measures Switzerland and its banks have taken so far to confront its wartime past as a neutral country with close economic ties to fascist countries surrounding it.

Banks have opened their books to independent auditors searching for unclaimed Holocaust-era accounts, published names of dormant account owners, and set up with other businesses and the SNB a humanitarian fund for needy Holocaust victims.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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WJC expects pact to further Holocaust settlement
05:38 p.m Mar 26, 1998

By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK, March 26 (Reuters) - Switzerland's big banks, facing the prospect of a U.S. boycott, have committed themselves to reaching a global settlement of claims against them for looted or lost Holocaust-era assets, a U.S. official said Thursday.

Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat, who has been working to head off a boycott, told a steering committee of state and local public finance officials that a ``breakthrough'' agreement had been reached with the banks that paved the way for them to try to reach a global settlement with Holocaust victims.

``They have clearly committed to engage in a process with the hope of a settlement,'' Eizenstat said.

The steering committee, composed of five public finance officials, is considering whether to recommend a boycott of Swiss banks or continuation of a moratorium against any punitive action that was agreed last December.

Eizenstat released a letter from the big three Swiss banks saying they wanted to try to reach a global settlement of Holocaust issues. It said the banks wanted to reach ``an honorable and moral'' conclusion through a global resolution of Holocaust issues.

Eizenstat said he saw the talks on reaching a global settlement as possibly lasting several months.

World Jewish Congress Secretary-General Israel Singer said he hoped the talks would ultimately lead to ``completion of a process we began on May 2, 1996...which will transfer every penny of dormant and looted assets'' back to Holocaust survivors or their heirs.

About 200 public finance officials agreed to a 90-day moratorium halting any punitive measures against Swiss banks in December. It expires on March 31.

The banks most at risk when the moratorium ends are Swiss Bank Corp., Union Bank of Switzerland and CS Group.

The United States and Switzerland sought earlier in the day to head off potential boycotts by declaring in a joint statement that such a move would be counterproductive.

In the Swiss capital Berne, the Swiss and U.S. governments joined forces to insist that any sanctions against the Swiss would hurt rather than help efforts to settle Holocaust issues.

``Both governments are convinced that the calls for sanctions and boycotts in the U.S. and the most recent echoes for measures by Switzerland against such actions are unjustified and counterproductive,'' they said in a statement.

The measures, if imposed, could throw a wrench in plans to merge Union Bank of Switzerland and Swiss Bank Corp. to create the world's second largest bank.

Sanctions and boycotts could also hurt Credit Suisse Group and its investment banking arm Credit Suisse First Boston.

Emotions have run high in Switzerland over the issue, which polarized the country on its role as a neutral during World War II and the actions of its banks and industry. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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US Official Warns Against Swiss Sanctions
06:46 a.m. Mar 24, 1998

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat has warned U.S. state and local governments against punishing Switzerland for its role in the Holocaust, predicting sanctions would be counter-productive.

Eizenstat said Americans should be applauding Switzerland's actions and encouraging its continued progress on the issue.

``Punitive measures against Swiss banks would be both unjustified and counter-productive,'' Eizenstat told a group of young U.S. Jews in Washington Monday.

``The Swiss have done so much and have gotten so little credit that it far from the time or season for sanctions,'' he said. ``Condemning the Swiss can only discourage them from moving on with the truly remarkable steps they have taken.''

U.S. state and local finance officials agreed in December to postpone any boycott of Swiss banks until March 31, but called upon the banks to address by then Jewish-led criticism of their handling of Holocaust victims' accounts.

Eizenstat spoke out about the issue at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January, urging state and local governments to permanently drop their threat of sanctions.

``Switzerland, like every other country examining its past, should be judged today not by what it did or didn't do half a century ago, but by what it is doing today to confront its history and take strides toward justice,'' he said Monday.

``And by that standard, Switzerland, at last, is doing the right thing.''

He cited Switzerland's efforts to raise and begin distributing money to assist needy survivors of the Holocaust, as well as concrete programs by Swiss banks to locate and return dormant bank accounts to their rightful owners.

Switzerland has come under massive international scrutiny for its role as a financial center in World War Two, the flow of assets through its secretive banks, and its wartime refugee policy that turned away thousands of Jews fleeing oppression and genocide at the hands of the Nazis.

Eizenstat said the United States would continue to seek the fullest possible list of dormant accounts; a rigorous and transparent auditing process; an expedited claims process; and large, swift contributions to Holocaust survivors.

To support these efforts, Washington was helping create an Internet website for interested parties to communicate.

Eizenstat called on the world community to complete ``the unfinished business of this century'' and secure a measure of justice for Holocaust survivors by the end of this millennium.

It was vital, he said, to go beyond the question of gold and examine the fate of other assets held by Holocaust victims, including insurance, artworks, securities, jewelry and gems, as well as communal property.

Washington was also reviewing the policies and activities of U.S. government agencies which helped track, collect and dispose of Nazi gold after the war.

The State Department and the Holocaust Memorial Museum would soon announce the date for a U.S.-sponsored conference to follow up on progress made on the assets issue at the London Conference in early December, Eizenstat said.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Jewish leader complains to Pope on Holocaust paper
08:42 a.m. Mar 26, 1998

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY, March 26 (Reuters) - A Jewish leader told Pope John Paul on Thursday that many Jews felt the Vatican's controversial document on the Holocuast did not go far enough in its self-criticism of Church responsibility for the tragedy.

The Pope, in his address to a joint Jewish and Catholic group that met in the Vatican, made no mention of the landmark document or that many Jews were upset with it.

A separate joint statement by the group said a top Vatican cardinal suggested that a joint team of Catholic and Jewish scholars be formed to review historical material already published by the Vatican on the World War Two period.

Sources on both sides pointed out this did not mean, however, that the Vatican's archives would yet be opened to independent Jewish scholars, as some have demanded.

In his address to the Pope, Geoffrey Wigoder, one of the Jewish members of the inter-religious group that met for four days, forcefully relayed Jewish disappointment with the Holocaust document, which was issued on March 16.

``When the document was issued last week, certain questions were asked in Jewish and other circles,'' Wigoder said. ``It was felt that the self-criticism -- for all its importance -- did not go far enough ...,'' he said.

Jews reacted coolly to the long-awaited Holocaust document, called ``We Remember, a Reflection on the Shoah.''

Many were particularly irritated by its defence of wartime Pope Pius XII, whom it effectively absolved of accusations that he facilitated the Holocaust by remaining silent.

Wigoder also told the Pope many Jews felt ``the connection between the long history of anti-Jewish conditioning under Christian auspices and the widespread indifference and even collaboration throughout Europe during the Shoah was not stated unequivocally and with sufficient clarity.''

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

But Jewish leaders said it failed to address the Catholic Church's preaching of anti-Jewish contempt for centuries, which they said made the ground fertile for the worst manifestation of anti-Semitism in the Holocaust.

``However, we can only deeply identify with the basic thrust of the document and the clear warning it issues against all forms of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, derived from the terrible lessons of the Shoah,'' Wigoder told the Pope.

``We full-heartedly join with you in its (the document) closing wish to turn awareness of past sins into a firm resolve to build a new future based on a shared mutual respect.''

The talks with the Vatican's Commission for Religious relations with Jews were arranged before the document was issued, but the paper became a major topic of discussion.

In his brief address, the Pope thanked the group, known as the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, for fostering dialogue.

``The progress which you have already made shows the immense promise held out by continuing dialogue between Catholics and Jews,'' the Pontiff told the group.

The Pope did not mention his predecessor Pius XII, whom he defended last Saturday when he called Pius ``a great Pope.''

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.

Wigoder's address had a number of positive notes, including a call for a continued Jewish-Catholic dialogue and a recommendation that the Pontiff visit Jerusalem in 2000. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Vatican holds out hope of opening WW2 archives
10:28 a.m. Mar 26, 1998

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY, March 26 (Reuters) - The Vatican on Thursday held out the hope that its archives may one day be opened up to Jewish scholars who want to examine the World War Two period, when they say the Church turned a blind eye to the Holocaust.

A final statement issued after four days of meetings between Catholic and Jewish leaders said a senior Vatican cardinal had suggested that a joint team of Jewish-Catholic scholars review material that is already in the public domain as a first step.

Many Jewish leaders have for years been calling for the Vatican to open its archives dealing with the World War Two period to an inter-religious group of historians.

``In discussion on the Vatican's record during the Shoah and the Jewish demand for impartial access to the relevant archival material, Cardinal (Edward) Cassidy suggested that a joint team of Jewish and Catholic scholars review the relevant material in the volumes produced by Catholic scholars covering the historical period concerned,'' it said.

``If questions still remained, they should seek further clarification,'' the joint statement added.

Cassidy is head of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with Jews, the department which issued a controversial document on the Holocaust earlier this month.

Jews reacted coolly to the long-awaited Holocaust document, called ``We Remember, a Reflection on the Shoah.''

Many were particularly irritated by its defence of wartime Pope Pius XII, whom it effectively absolved of accusations that he facilitated the Holocaust by remaining silent.

The crux of the issue regarding the archives is whether Pius did all he might have done to stop the Holocaust and whether his so-called ``silence'' facilitated it.

Vatican historians, whose work was published in an 11-volume study by three Jesuits from 1965 to 1981, say 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 joint statement issued on Thursday said a team of Catholic and Jewish scholars should first study together the 11 volumes already public.

Jewish leaders who attended the meeting said the section of the statement that spoke of seeking ``further clarification'' if necessary led them to hope the archives may be open one day.

``The door has been opened in terms of joint study, in terms of further exploration into the issues,'' Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the New York board of Rabbis, told Reuters.

``This morning, Cardinal Cassidy did not rule out that if need be. If we have to turn to the archives, so we must to further clarify the Church's role during the Holocaust,'' said Schneier, who took part in the meetings.

``That was a very, very significant step, in what we view as an ongoing process,'' Schneier added.

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

``We must set up joint groups of Catholic and Jewish scholars to research further into the historical period as well as into the whole relationship between the theology and the tragedies that took place during the period of the Holocaust,'' said Rabbi David Rosen, head of the Anti-Defamation League in Jerusalem.

``That's a significant step in itself,'' Rosen told Reuters.

Father Pierre Blet, the last surviving member of the team of Church historians, said earlier this month he had no opposition to opening the Vatican's wartime archives to outside historians but he doubted if they would find anything new.

In an article in a Jesuit journal, Blet also rejected accusations that he and the other church historians had intentionally overlooked documents detrimental to Pius.

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Polish rabbi seeks removal of cross near Auschwitz
02:46 p.m Mar 25, 1998

WARSAW, March 25 (Reuters) - Poland's chief rabbi demanded on Wednesday that a large Christian cross be removed from near the former Auschwitz concentration camp built by Nazi German invaders in World War Two, PAP news agency reported.

Menachem Joskowicz, was responding to a sermon on Sunday by Poland's Catholic Primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, who said ``the cross has stood and will stand at Auschwitz,'' despite assurances by a government official that it would be moved.

``(The primate) must honour the Jewish religion and nothing should disturb prayers on the holy site of Oswiecim,'' Joskowicz said in a radio interview, using the Polish name for Auschwitz.

``Auschwitz is the place where my family perished, my fellow prisoners... my nation died there, there died culture and human civilisation,'' said Joskowicz.

He argued that Jews could not pray by a cross, PAP said.

The Nazis murdered an estimated 1.5 million people at the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex in south Poland, more than 90 percent of whom were Jews gassed in the huge death factory of Birkenau.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Poles were also killed, including many political prisoners murdered at the original Auschwitz camp by which the cross stands.

A simmering dispute over the cross became an open row earlier this year when Krzysztof Sliwinski, the government's ambassador for dialogue with the Jewish Diaspora, said the cross would soon be removed with the consent of the Vatican.

The declaration prompted protests of some right-leaning parties and local community members, which were backed the influential former President Lech Walesa, a devout Catholic.

The eight-metre wooden cross was erected in 1979 outside the Auschwitz camp perimeter near a spot where the Nazis shot Polish political prisoners. Polish-born Pope John Paul II once celebrated a mass beneath it.

The controversy over the Christian symbol reflects divergent sensibilities of Roman Catholics and Jews over how to commemorate victims of the Nazis.

Many Jewish commentators including Joskowicz argue that no religious symbols belong at the scene so that people of any faith can pray there.

Some Catholics who associate their sense of national identity with their faith, say the cross has a place in any part of the country including Auschwitz.

Similar arguments surrounded a convent which was sited in the late 1980s right by the Auschwitz camp and only removed after long angry protests by Jewish organisations.

The Polish government last year agreed with Jewish groups on a plan for better preserving the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex as a memorial, part of a wider effort to improve sometimes strained relations with the worldwide Jewish community. REUTERS

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Polish Jews seek to calm row over Auschwitz cross
12:29 p.m. Mar 27, 1998

WARSAW, March 27 (Reuters) - Poland's Jewish congregations sought on Friday to calm a row over a large cross at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex where Nazi Germany killed up to 1.5 million people -- the vast majority of them Jews.

Some Polish Catholics, including senior bishops and politicians, have criticised demands by Jewish groups worldwide for the cross's removal, sometimes even accusing them of attacked Polish national values.

``We view the growing atmosphere of conflict over the cross in Auschwitz with pain and sadness,'' said the leadership of the Association of Jewish religious communities in Poland.

``Noisy conflicts are completely inappropriate in the surroundings of that place.''

The association, grouping Poland'a few small remaining congregations of Jews, said Catholic Church decisions on the cross might be a test of a major Vatican document this month on the World War Two Holocaust of Europe's Jews.

It said the best solution might be not to have any religious symbols at Auschwitz ``so as to respect the feelings of as many victims and their relatives as possible. But maybe some other solutions are also conceivable.''

Some commentators have suggested the eight-metre cross should be moved further away and possibly replaced by a smaller obelisk, marked with a cross.

The Jewish statement voiced respect for the importance Christians attached to crosses and said it was not up to Jews to decide the fate of this particular one.

It noted that the new Vatican document said the Holocaust of the Jews was a fact of great importance to the Catholic Church. ``If so, then Auschwitz deserves special treatment as the symbol of that tragedy,'' it said.

``Whatever is decided, it will be hard to undo the harm done by activities of those with extreme views -- unfortunately these are not lacking among Jews or Christians.''

The statement differed in tone from remarks by Poland's chief rabbi when he demanded the cross's removal, saying Jews could not pray by a cross and the only symbols at the site should be the chimneys of the former gas chamber crematoria.

Rabbi Menachem Joskowicz was responding to a sermon last Sunday by Poland's Catholic Primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, who said ``the cross has stood and will stand at Auschwitz,'' despite assurances by a government official that it would be moved.

The cross was erected in 1979 by the Auschwitz camp near a spot where the Nazis shot many Polish prisoners. Polish-born Pope John Paul II once celebrated a mass beneath it.

Some crosses and Stars of David planted by Christians have been removed, after Jewish requests, from Birkenau where most of the victims, including large numbers of little children, were gassed by the Germans and their ashes scattered.

The Jewish congregations said their concern was to honour the memory of more than a million Jews, but added: ``We pay tribute to the Poles, Roma and all other victims of the camp. We are deeply conscious that Oswiecim (Auschwitz) is also a symbol of the sufferings of the whole occupied Poland.''

The dispute over the cross is an aftershock of a fierce controversy surrounding a convent which was sited in the late 1980s by the Auschwitz camp and removed only after long protests by Jewish organisations.

The Polish government agreed with Jewish groups last year on a plan for preserving the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex as a memorial, part of a wider effort to improve sometimes troubled relations with the worldwide Jewish community.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Cabinet changes bring Russian regions nearer Moscow
10:38 a.m. Mar 25, 1998

By Philippa Fletcher

MOSCOW, March 25 (Reuters) - President Boris Yeltsin, who created a hiatus by dismissing the government this week, is hoping Russia's vast hinterland will help him fill the gap.

For centuries, leaders in the capital have ruled the provinces with little regard for local views.

Over the next few days, however, leaders of regions several time zones from Moscow may find themselves being wooed by the powers-that-be in the capital.

``We must maintain contacts with the governors. We must keep the governors closer to our hearts,'' Yeltsin said at a meeting with officials in his administration on Tuesday.

Sergei Kiriyenko, the young energy minister thrust into the prime minister's post on Monday, was quick to act on the order.

One of his first moves on taking up the task of forming a new cabinet was to meet Yegor Stroyev, leader of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of parliament, on Tuesday.

On Wednesday Kiriyenko planned to contact individual governors by telephone, the government said.

Although his own power base is outside Moscow, in the Volga city of Nizhny Novgorod, Kiriyenko said his biggest weakness was his lack of knowledge of regional government.

``This is very bad because Russia is a complex country consisting of a multitude of regions. And what one sees from Moscow is totally different from what is seen from a vantage point in some region,'' he told the commercial NTV channel.

He was not exaggerating. The 89 regions which make up the Russian Federation range from tiny, poverty-stricken backwaters like the Jewish Autonomous Republic on the Chinese border to vast, wealthy, independent-minded republics like Tatarstan.

``That is why today and in future I will contact many leaders in the regions,'' Kiriyenko said on Tuesday evening. ``Their point of view is of fundamental importance to me.''

With Kiriyenko's acceptability to parliament unclear -- the communists say he is too inexperienced -- several regional leaders are among candidates tipped to take his place.

The most serious options are Dmitry Ayatskov from the southern Saratov region, Mikhail Prusak from Novgorod in northwest Russia and Konstantin Titov from Samara, also in the south. Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, is also touted by some.

Stroyev's name has been mentioned too, but Nikolai Pavlov, who analyses the regions for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think-tank thinks he is an unlikely choice.

``He would be quite a strong man in that post and would represent a significant danger for the president,'' said Pavlov.

Yeltsin is widely believed to have sacked Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin because his loyal ally had begun to appear a threat. By that logic, he will be looking for a tame successor which would make a governor seem a good choice.

``Any governor, however strong, if he becomes prime minister, will in any case be a weak premier because he will be without his team and apparatus and those links which make a premier strong and independent in politics,'' Pavlov said.

While persuading a governor to swap his regional power base for a lonely and uncertain job in Moscow could prove tough, ensuring they back a candidate may be an easier task.

Indeed, the Sevodnya newspaper felt backing from the Federation Council, which, along with the more argumentative lower house must approve a new prime minister, was already in the bag.

``After an hour's talk with Stroyev he (Kiriyenko) underlined how 'extremely important' the regional leaders views were...For his part the worldly-wise Stroyev gave a favourable assessment of the approval of a new premier,'' it said.

Many regions have become much more self-reliant since communist days -- although Chechnya is the only one to have declared independence -- and some have attracted foreign investors and raised funds by issuing Eurobonds.

Last year Moscow lost most of its direct control over the regions after their leaders -- hitherto appointed by Moscow -- won popular backing in a string of local polls.

But power and money are still concentrated on the capital, and with wage delays piling up and a Russia-wide protest action planned for April 9, the governors want Moscow on their side.

Stroyev asked Kiriyenko to sweep away layers of bureaucracy to give the governors direct access to the government and Yeltsin. His request may be forgotten.

``It would take a long while to get rid of because there are so many vested interests tied up in it,'' said a diplomat who focuses on the regions.

Samara's Titov was also pessimistic.

``Of course, such a reorganisation (of the government) will not leave the regions untouched,'' he told Kommersant Daily. ``But it's too early to say which region has won or lost. In any case, in previous such situations we have always lost.'' REUTERS

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FOCUS-Germany's Schroeder vows Holocaust awareness
04:58 p.m Mar 24, 1998

By Paul Holmes

JERUSALEM, March 24 (Reuters) - Gerhard Schroeder pledged on Tuesday to foster continued awareness of German responsibility for the Holocaust if he becomes chancellor and to maintain a special relationship with Israel.

He also said he thought Europe could play mainly an economic role in Middle East peacemaking.

Schroeder's visit to Jerusalem, in his role as president of Germany's upper house of parliament, included a pilgrimage to the Yad Vashem memorial to victims of the Holocaust and talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

``Historic responsibility is something that transcends generations and must be passed down. One must come to terms with this part of history time and again,'' Schroeder, 53, told a news conference in Jerusalem.

Opinion polls suggest that Schroeder, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) premier of the state of Lower Saxony, will win federal elections on September 27 and end Chancellor Helmut Kohl's 16 years in power.

He also met U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was in Jerusalem as part of his own Middle East tour.

Schroeder, born in 1944, one year before Nazi Germany's defeat in World War Two, said he had sensed some concern in his talks with Israeli officials that his generation wanted to draw a line under the past.

``I got the impression at times that there is a certain concern that my generation...does not take the special relationship as seriously as it deserves or as the generation did that has now left the stage or is about to do so,'' he said.

``I made clear that the generation that grew up in Germany after the war is well aware of the historic responsibility and that we do not refer to the 'mercy of a late birth' because in our view there is no such thing,'' he said.

Those remarks appeared to be a subtle swipe at Kohl, both over his political fortunes and over controversial remarks earlier in his chancellorship when he said the ``mercy of a late birth'' meant he had not had to fight for Hitler.

Kohl, 67, is the first post-war chancellor not to have lived as an adult through Hitler's Third Reich and the extermination of six million Jews in Nazi death camps.

Schroeder paid homage to the victims at Yad Vashem, where he laid a wreath in the memorial's stark Hall of Remembrance.

``I think it would be daring to stand here as somebody who has not experienced it personally and to speak up on behalf of those who have,'' he said afterwards through an interpreter.

``I hope that you do understand that there are moments in life where I feel I would not like to say anything.''

Schroeder held talks later on Tuesday with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in Gaza over stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

``The European role will not have the same weight as the American role but the Europeans do have the interest to support the peace process. The Europeans can play a role particularly in the economic development in the region,'' he told a joint press conference with Arafat.

Arafat said the peace process needed an ``active European role.''

Schroeder said he had differed with Netanyahu over Jewish settlement building on occupied land, a policy Schroeder said he saw as diminishing Palestinian trust in the peace process.

An Israeli statement said Netanyahu had briefed Schroeder on Israel's talks with the Palestinians and on ``the role Israel attributes to the European Union in the political process.''

Netanyahu also ``emphasised the supreme importance of maintaining good relations between Israel and Germany in all areas and the need to expand education on the Holocaust among members of the young generation,'' the statement said.

Schroeder said bilateral relations had to remain good ``regardless of who governs in Germany (or) Israel.'' REUTERS

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Gore to visit Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt
04:25 p.m Mar 25, 1998

WASHINGTON, March 25 (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Al Gore will visit Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt April 30 through May 3, his office announced on Wednesday.

Gore will be in Israel April 30-May 1 to attend official celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish state.

He will visit Saudi Arabia on May 1-2 for talks with Crown Prince Abdullah and to meet with U.S. troops stationed there as part of the U.S. contingent in the Gulf region.

On May 2-3 Gore will meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and convene a joint U.S.-Egyptian commission designed to boost economic development. REUTERS

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Displaced Israeli Arabs demand return to villages
12:03 p.m. Mar 28, 1998

By Wael al-Ahmad

AL-GHABSIEH, Israel, March 28 (Reuters) - Around 1,200 Israeli Arabs displaced during the 1948 Middle East war demonstrated near a deserted village on Saturday demanding the right to return to their villages.

Demonstrators near al-Ghabsieh village carried banners naming 416 Arab villages whose 300,000 Palestinian residents were displaced during fighting between Arabs and Jews in 1948.

Witnesses said protesters chanted slogans emphasising their Palestinian identity over their status as Israeli citizens. Israeli police and soldiers prevented scores of cars from reaching al-Ghabsieh.

Israeli-Arab parliamentarians said the demonstration was part of a series of activities by more than 850,000 Israeli Arabs to commemorate Land Day -- March 30, the day in 1976 when Israeli troops fired on Arabs protesting against land confiscations, killing six.

The protest was also part of activities marking the 50th anniversary of what Arabs and Palestinians call the ``Great Catastrophe'' -- the defeat of the Arabs in the 1948 war which created the Palestinian refugee problem and led to the establishment of the state of Israel.

Israel celebrates the same events as part of its 50th anniversary jubilee this year.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians, displaced from their villages and towns during the 1948 war, now live in refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The only visible remnant of Arab life in al-Ghabsieh was a mosque, surrounded by barbed wire placed by Israelis after 1948 to prevent Arabs from returning to the village for prayers. The rest of the village was deserted and wrecked by the war.

A young man who tried to raise the Palestinian flag on the mosque was stopped by police.

``In April 1948 when the Jewish militias attacked us, one of the village citizens raised the white flag but they killed him along with nine others. Residents were terrified by their terrorism and fled the village,'' said Mohammad Aslan, 95, who now lives in another village 500 metres (yards) away.

``We returned to the village nine months later but they drove us out. I still dream of returning,'' he told Reuters.

Israeli Arabs, a minority in Israel, have historically complained of discrimination at the political, social and economic levels. They demand equality with Jews and improved services. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Berlin mayor questions need for Holocaust memorial
12:57 p.m. Mar 28, 1998

BERLIN, March 28 (Reuters) - The mayor of Berlin on Saturday urged the German government to consider whether it was necessary to erect a new memorial in the capital city to honour the six million Jews killed by the Nazis.

Eberhard Diepgen, in an article for the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel, said that in the more than 50 years since the end of World War Two the city had built more than 45 memorials to victims of Nazi terror.

``That's why one has to ask whether Berlin needs more and more memorials to do justice to the memory of the Holocaust victims,'' he said.

Diepgen said he expected a new memorial to be agreed upon once ``a convincing concept has been found.''

``But one has to ask whether contemporary art has the means to create a memorial that is sufficiently expressive.''

The German government reaffirmed its intention this week to go ahead with plans for a Holocaust memorial in Berlin, despite opposition which has threatened to derail the whole project.

The monument 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.

Diepgen said there were good arguments for keeping the focus on the existing memorial at the ``Neue Wache'' building near the Brandenburg Gate.

Built in 1817 by architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the Neue Wache was renovated and made Germany's central memorial site in 1993.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl favours a design for a new memorial by New York-based architect Peter Eisenman and sculptor Richard Serra. They envisage creating a graveyard-like labyrinth of 4,000 concrete pillars up to 7.5 metres (24 feet) tall.

The final design has not been chosen yet.

Plans for the monument, to be built in central Berlin between the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, 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. REUTERS

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German Town Deletes Hitler from Honor Roll
11:42 a.m. Mar 27, 1998

DRESDEN, Germany (Reuters) - An east German town Friday struck Adolf Hitler off its list of honorary citizens.

The local council in Wurzen, southGermany, took the step after a historian unearthed evidence of Hitler's honorary citizenship while examining old files about the town.

A spokesman for the council said Wurzen, like thousands of other German towns, had granted the Nazi leader honorary citizenship during the Third Reich.

The matter had been forgotten when the town was part of communist East Germany.

``We wanted to make a clean break,'' the spokesman said. ``It was just a formality. There was a unanimous decision with no discussion.''

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Father of German sportscar Porsche dies
12:47 p.m. Mar 27, 1998

By Rolf Soderlind

VIENNA, Austria (Reuters) - Ferdinand Porsche, founder of German sportscar maker Porsche AG and one of the designers of the Volkswagen Beetle under Adolf Hitler's rule, died Friday in Austria, the company said. He was 88.

A company statement said Porsche died in the Austrian mountain resort of Zell am See, where he acquired a holiday home in the 1930s.

Porsche's home office in Stuttgart, Germany, said he would be buried privately in Zell am See and that an official funeral service would take place later in Stuttgart.

Erwin Teufel, premier of the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, said Porsche was ``an extraordinarily significant and creative engineer and an outstanding business personality.''

``He created a company with a world reputation,'' Teufel said.

Porsche, known as Ferry to friends and associates, was born near to engineer and car racer Ferdinand Porsche and his wife Aloisia, on Sept. 19, 1909.

Ferry, who drove a car for the first time at the age of 10, moved with the family to Stuttgart where he came to work in his father's engineering company.

The young Porsche was one of the brains behind what became known as the people's car, producing the prototype Volkswagen in Hitler's Nazi Germany in 1936.

Four years earlier, he helped build the classic 16-cylinder Auto-Union racing car.

In 1935, Porsche married Dorothea Reitz of Stuttgart. They had four sons.

During World War II, Porsche designed tanks for Hitler's armies. After the war, the company started work on what became the first Porsche sportscar.

``I originally set out to make a car that would be fun,'' he once said.

He took the design of the Volkswagen -- a rear-engine, air-cooled, lightweight car -- and squeezed more power out of it, producing the first Porsche, the 356, in 1948.

The 356, which critics said looked like an upside-down soap dish, went into full production two years later.

The company sold 77,000 of the model until it was phased out in 1963 when the 911, another rear-engine, air-cooled car, became the backbone of the company's sales.

The company, which originally thought it might only manage to make 50 cars, rolled vehicle number 1 million off the assembly line in Stuttgart in July 1996.

Through half a century, Porsche cars have piled up more than 22,000 racing victories.

The cars have followed a clear line from the original designs of Ferry Porsche.

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German anti-euro lobby takes to the streets
10:07 a.m. Mar 28, 1998

By Clifford Coonan

FRANKFURT, March 28 (Reuters) - Around a thousand Germans, fearful that the forthcoming single currency may threaten their national sovereignty, staged a demonstration here on Saturday to voice their concerns about the euro.

A mixed bag of neo-nazis, anarchists and pensioners attended the demonstration at Frankfurt's historic St Paul's Church, site of Germany's first parliament in 1848.

The meeting was organised by the anti-euro Freie Buerger (Free Citizens) organisation and was addressed by former EU official Manfred Brunner.

``We demand a referendum on the euro. Let politicians examine their consciences on this,'' Brunner said, as neo-nazis chanted ``Germany for the Germans'' and anarchists blew whistles and shouted ``Nazis out.''

Opinion polls have shown that nearly two-thirds of Germans are against the introduction of the euro. Chancellor Helmut Kohl has ruled out the possibility of a referendum and there is no constitutional provision for one to take place.

``Whether it is a hard or a soft euro, Germany will have to pay for it,'' Brunner told the demonstration, which was due to march to the Bundesbank after the demonstration.

The Bundesbank issued an upbeat report on European Economic and Monetary Union members on Friday.

Right-wing extremists within the crowd waved banners saying ``The euro is our misfortune,'' echoing the Nazi slogan ``The jews are our misfortune,'' while others held placards saying ``Kohl can keep the euro, the people want the euro.''

Brunner was keen to distance himself from any associations with Hitler's Nazis, saying: ``The Nazis were just national socialists, in the same mould as the socialists who messed up East Germany.''

As he spoke, left-wing demonstrators blew whistles to drown out his speech and shouted ``Nazis out'' and ``International solidarity.''

Quoting sources as diverse as the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, the British essayist Thomas Carlisle and Germany's Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Brunner said Europe should be a ``friendly collection of different cultures.''

He said that Germans wanted to protect themselves against ``anti-European federalists.''

The Freie Buerger is just one of a host of small, disparate groups springing up to defend the German mark, viewed by many as a powerful symbol and guarantee of the country's legendary post-World War Two stability and wealth.

These groups are generally viewed by the German media as a kind of lunatic fringe, but they reflect a growing fear among Germans that Europe's planned single currency will not match the fabled strength of the mark.

For most Germans the deutschemark, which was introduced in 1948 in the chaotic aftermath of the war to replace the spent Reichsmark of the imperial and Nazi eras, is more than just a currency, it is a symbol of national pride.

Among measures being taken to stop the introduction of the euro is a legal challenge in the Karlsruhe Constitutional Court by four German professors, who include a former Bundesbank council member.

  ((Frankfurt Newsroom +49 69 756525,
frankfurt.newsroom+reuters.com)) REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Dutch state may be sued over wartime Jewish art
12:52 p.m. Mar 26, 1998

AMSTERDAM, March 26 (Reuters) - The Dutch government on Thursday declined to comment on reports the heirs of a Jewish art dealer forced to flee the country during World War Two planned to seek legal damages over paintings sold to Nazi occupiers.

The heirs of Jacques Goudstikker, whose multi-million guilder (dollars) art collection was bought for a song by occupying Nazis in 1940, told Dutch daily De Volkskrant they would take the government to court after it turned down their claim for 150 paintings now hanging in Dutch museums.

``We have not received a summons and therefore we have no comment,'' a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Culture said.

Goudstikker's heirs in the United States, the Von Sahers, lodged their claim with the Dutch state in January, disputing a settlement made in 1952 with the art dealer's widow.

According to the Von Sahers, the post-war deal made with Desi Goudstikker took advantage of her weak emotional and financial position.

But Dutch Culture Minister Aad Nuis said late on Wednesday he was rejecting the claim.

Documents and correspondence relating to the affair showed that after the war Desi Goudstikker had taken a ``conscious and well-considered'' decision against seeking restitution for her legal rights with regard to the paintings, Nuis said.

By contrast, she had successfully pursued a claim for restitution of other assets of her husband's company which had been sold illegally to a German banker.

``One of the most striking factors in this case is the high degree of selection in requesting legal restitution,'' Nuis said in a statement.

``All the documents I have seen show that at every turn extremely careful consideration was given to whether -- and, if so, to what degree -- use should be made of the possibility for legal restitution.''

The ministry said that after the war Goudstikker's widow had been given a choice between recovering the family assets through legal proceedings for the restitution of legal rights or keeping the money paid for them while renouncing ownership.

It said archive material on the case showed expert advisers had counselled Desi to renounce ownership of Flemish Old Masters and Italian renaissance paintings sold to Field Marshall Hermann Goering and keep what she had left of the two million guilder ($970,000) sale price.

This was because the Goering paintings had not all been recovered and some of those that had appeared badly damaged.

The ministry cited a 1950 memo to Desi from her lawyer urging her to renounce ownership of the Goering paintings.

Documents further showed the Dutch state had accepted the partial claim for legal restitution under protest, it added.

But the ministry said it would reconsider any claim if any new substantive information came to light.

``The state considers each claim on its individual merits,'' it said.

It said the Dutch government had recently returned two 17th century Old Masters to the heirs of their wartime owners in response to claims. ($ - 2.058 Dutch Guilders)

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Dutch far right in drugs-for-votes probe
06:09 a.m. Mar 24, 1998

NIJMEGEN, Netherlands, March 24 (Reuters) - Dutch police said on Tuesday they were holding three members of an extreme right-wing party on suspicion of trying to buy nomination signatures from heroin addicts for money and drugs.

A police spokesman said the three men from the Centre Democrats party -- one a former Arnhem city councillor -- had allegedly been offering addicts in the south city 25 guilders (around $11) or a dose of heroin in return for their signatures on a party nomination form.

Under the Dutch electoral system, parties must collect a minimum of 30 signatures in each of 19 electoral districts in order to put up a candidate. The Netherlands will hold general elections on May 6.

``The men are being held under the opium act after one was found to be carrying a portion of heroin,'' police spokesman Peter Bekker told Reuters.

He said police were called to an addicts' day-care centre in central Nijmegen after clients told staff of the men's offer.

Bekker said the three were also found to be carrying a list of signatures. The men had yet to give a statement, he added.

The Dutch extreme right currently holds three seats in the 150-member parliament, but were wiped from the political map during local elections earlier this month. They gained only one municipal seat, on a council in a Rotterdam suburb.

The Centre Democrats traditionally campaign on an anti-crime, anti-drugs and anti-foreigner platform. REUTERS

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Stone-throwing youths attack Danish rightist leader
11:42 a.m. Mar 24, 1998

COPENHAGEN, March 24 (Reuters) - The leader of a Danish far-right anti-immigration party which did well in this month's general election was bombarded with stones, pieces of wood and tomatoes in a Copenhagen suburb on Tuesday, Ritzau news agency reported.

Pia Kjaersgaard, leader of the Danish People's Party (DPP), was forced to seek shelter in a bank after youths attacked her while she was giving a radio interview.

She had also been scheduled to visit a club for immigrants in the working-class area where many refugees and other immigrants live.

Kjaersgaard left the bank in a police car amid a rain of debris and tomatoes despite efforts by police to cordon off the streets around the bank, Ritzau said.

The DPP increased its representation in Denmark's 179-member parliament to 13 seats from four in the March 11 election after campaigning for tighter immigration rules.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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British Jews snub Cook over Israel row -- paper
03:36 a.m. Mar 27, 1998

LONDON, March 27 (Reuters) - Britain's Jewish community has cancelled a dinner with Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in protest over his diplomatic clash with Israel during a visit earlier this month, a newspaper said on Friday.

The Jewish Chronicle said the Board of Jewish Deputies had withdrawn an invitation to Cook to address its annual fund-raising dinner in May and put the event off until the end of the year.

``Considering the strength of feeling in the community, we did not think we should have him at our dinner,'' Board president Eldred Tabachnik told the newspaper.

``Hopefully we will be able to ask him later, when things have cooled down.''

Cook's trip to Israel turned into a diplomatic disaster when he shook hands with a Palestinian official during a visit to the Jewish settlement of Har Homa in East Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamim Netanyahu cancelled an official dinner in protest, prompting an ugly series of exchanges between officials.

Tabachnik said he hoped British Prime Minister Tony Blair would start repairing bilateral ties when he visits the region next month.

``As far as Mr Cook is concerned, I am afraid he will have a problem for years to come,'' he told the paper.

A Foreign Office spokesman denied that Cook had been snubbed, saying the dinner had been postponed for operational reasons. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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German enclave in Chile opposes police action
04:39 p.m Mar 26, 1998

PARRAL, Chile, March 26 (Reuters) - Leaders of a secretive German enclave in southern Chile on Thursday condemned police action on the site.

``Our settlement has turned into a true concentration camp,'' said a statement given to Reuters by enclave member Hernan Escobar, the spokesman for the youth of the settlement.

Police entered the sprawling Dignity Colony, also known as Villa Baviera, on Tuesday in search of its fugitive leader, Paul Schaefer, who is wanted for nine counts of child rape.

Since then about 60 police officers have monitored around the clock everyone who enters and leaves the compound. The enclave is home to about 300 people, mostly of German ancestry.

``At this moment an unknown quantity of police officers is on the nearby property where they are breaking installations, stealing private property and basically committing all the actions that constitutionally they are supposed to stop,'' the statement said.

Schaefer, 77, a former Nazi corporal, has been running from Chilean police since August 1996. He founded the complex in the Andean foothills 200 miles (320 km) south of Santiago in 1961 after fleeing from Germany. The enclave has been charged in the past with tax evasion and police have launched several unsuccessful raids on the compound in search of Schaefer. Last November they found a network of underground tunnels, which former members of the settlement say Schaefer used as hide-outs. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Annan and wife moved by Holocaust museum visit
06:48 a.m. Mar 25, 1998

By Janine Zacharia

JERUSALEM, March 25 (Reuters) - After a teary-eyed tour through Israel's memorial to victims of the Holocaust, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the world on Wednesday to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

Annan, who was in Israel on the sixth leg of his Middle East tour, visited the Yad Vashem memorial with his wife Nane. She is a niece of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis.

``In the memory of the six million Jews who perished during World War Two the lesson is not only a Jewish one, but a universal one. Never again should humanity allow this to happen,'' Annan wrote in the visitors' book.

Wallenberg was arrested by Soviet forces in 1945. His fate remains a mystery. Many campaigners eager to clarify what happened to him believe that Wallenberg, who would be 85 years old today, may still be alive.

Nane Annan blinked back tears as she and her husband stood for an extended moment in front of a carob tree planted in her uncle's memory on Yad Vashem's Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles, dedicated to non-Jews who saved Jews from extermination.

``This obviously has been a very moving experience for my wife, for myself in particular, and for all of my team,'' Annan said at the end of his visit.

Inside Yad Vashem's museum, Annan wiped away a tear while viewing pictures painted by children in the Lodz ghetto in Poland. He also recognised a photograph taken at Buchenwald of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, a personal friend.

Annan recalled this year's 50th anniversary of the U.N. declaration of human rights, drawn up after the Holocaust, and lamented the small number of people who had helped the Jews.

``As we recognise this anniversary...one wonders what would have happened if during World War Two we had that universal standard, would many more people have stood up and challenged?

``If there had been more (Oskar) Schindlers, more Raoul Wallenbergs, would we have saved many more? And the question I always ask is how come there were so few, so few who dared to risk their lives to save others. Why did so many turn away?''

After the visit, Nane Annan met representatives of Israeli groups fighting to get the issue of Wallenberg's fate raised at the U.N. General Assembly.

``I was born in October 1944 so I am a testimony to the time that Raoul has been away. Of course he was always present although he was absent ... the simple courage that he had was also equally present,'' Nane Annan said.

Rabbi Stewart Weiss, active in the fight to put Wallenberg on the world agenda, said it was not pure coincidence that ``God made Nane the wife of the U.N. Secretary-General.''

``It is divine manipulation,'' he said.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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French Conservatives Told to Quit

Tuesday, March 24, 1998; 8:07 p.m. EST

PARIS (AP) -- Five French conservatives who won regional presidencies after striking deals with the extreme-right National Front have been told by their party to quit or risk being expelled.

Francois Leotard, president of the conservative Union for French Democracy (UDF), said Tuesday the party's executive committee had given the officials a week to resign. They are currently suspended.

``If they don't, procedures will be put in place to exclude them, of course,'' Leotard said in an interview with television channel France-2.

France's right wing has been in disarray since the anti-immigrant National Front struck alliances with conservatives in regional elections, which began March 15. The alliances helped rightist candidates win five regional presidencies the left had expected to capture.

The national leadership of the UDF and the conservative Rally for the Republic (RPR) had told its members not to make deals with the Front.

President Jacques Chirac on Monday called the National Front ``racist and xenophobic'' and said he would seek to change electoral laws to diminish the party's grip on French politics.

The National Front has called for the deportation of some African and North African immigrants, blaming them for an increase in crime and the country's high unemployment rate. Last year, at a news conference in Germany, Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen called the Nazi gas chambers ``a detail of history.''

A UDF statement criticized the officials for making the pact, ``regardless of the profound differences between their policies and those of the Front.''

The bargaining has shocked France's political establishment, raising fears that the line between the extreme right and the mainstream was fading.

However, further voting Monday saw a backlash.

Conservatives foiled Le Pen's ambitions to win the presidency of Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azure, in southern France. Two other conservatives elected with votes of Le Pen's party resigned elsewhere.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press<

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France's UDF to debate whether to disband
02:47 p.m Mar 26, 1998

By Bernard Edinger

PARIS, March 26 (Reuters) - The head of France's centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF), caught in a political crisis, said on Thursday he had called its five squabbling groups to meet next week to decide whether to keep the coalition alive.

The unlikely coalition of centrists, progressives, die-hard conservatives and free marketeers is in a storm after five of its politicians made deals with the far-right National Front to hold on to local council posts following regional elections.

On Thursday, despite the threat of expulsion from the UDF, four of the five were resisting calls to resign from regional chairmanships they won with Front backing.

``We will meet early next week to see whether the founding pact of the UDF should be repudiated, or broken, and for what reasons,'' UDF president Francois Leotard told reporters.

Francois Bayrou, head of the UDF's centrist wing, on Wednesday called for the UDF, created in 1978 by former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, to be dissolved and replaced by a new grouping.

The suggestion was opposed by Leotard and former finance minister Alain Madelin, another UDF leader. All three make little secret of their ambitions to run for president of France in 2002.

Jean-Marie Le Pen's anti-immigrant National Front took 15.5 percent of the vote in regional council elections on March 15, gaining kingmaker status in centre-right strongholds threatened by gains from the left.

Five outgoing UDF council heads made behind-the-scenes deals to keep their seats in defiance of party leaders.

There was some similar but milder flirting in the neo-Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR) where rank-and file militants have long been attracted by the Front's tough law-and-order, anti-immigrant platform.

But the fiery Le Pen, hitherto ostracised by mainstream politicians, overreached himself when he demanded centre-rightists help him become president of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur (PACA) region.

The notion that Le Pen could preside over a key area including the wealthy French Riviera was too much for Gaullist President Jacques Chirac.

In one of the most forceful performances of his career, Chirac went on television to condemn tactical alliances with the Front, which he damned as a ``racist and xenophobic party'' dangerous for France's democracy and reputation.

Protest marchers called for the resignation of council presidents elected with National Front backing.

Former defence minister Charles Millon, another presidential hopeful, was elected president of the Lyon area regional council with Le Pen's backing.

With the wind turning, Millon earlier this week denounced Le Pen as a ``1920s fascist'' but refused to resign from his chairmanship despite protest in which thousands marched daily.

Millon was quoted by the French press as saying he only entered into his tacit alliance with Le Pen on the advice of Giscard d'Estaing and he called on the former president on Thursday, apparently hoping for help in climbing down from his limb.

Millon refused to speak to reporters after the meeting.

Giscard d'Estaing later told France 3 television he had not advised Millon one way or the other but had merely offered him questions ``to think about.'' REUTERS

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Pressure mounts on five French rightists to resign
09:27 a.m. Mar 24, 1998

PARIS, March 24 (Reuters) - Pressure mounted on Tuesday on five right-wing French politicians to resign their newly won jobs as regional chairman because they had accepted help from the far-right National Front to win the election.

One of the five announced he was prepared to step down after rightist President Jacques Chirac denounced the controversial power deals, which broke a longstanding taboo against working with the party of xenophobic firebrand Jean-Marie Le Pen.

A majority of deputies from the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF), the party of the five men in question, urged them to step down.

``We debated the matter this morning. There was a majority in favour of their immediate resignation,'' deputy Dominique Paille told reporters following the closed-door meeting.

``I believe they should step down before today's meeting of the UDF executive committee'' which was to start at 5.30 p.m.(1630 GMT), he said.

Jean-Pierre Soisson, new regional council chairman in Burgundy, told BFM radio he would meet fellow conservatives on Wednesday to reach a collective decision on his future.

In a televised speech on Monday evening, Chirac denounced the five for harming France's image by playing ``political games'' with a party he branded ``racist and xenophobic.''

``I have heard Chirac's message,'' said Soisson, who denied having made any formal deal with National Front councillors whose votes assured his victory over a Socialist candidate.

``Should I quit as chairman? That is a decision that will be taken collectively tomorrow evening,'' he said.

Conservative leaders in another four of mainland France's 22 regions have either quit immediately after being voted in with Front help or withdrawn from leadership races to avoid having their names associated with the controversial Front.

The decision to grant the far-right party a king-making role in the regional elections has thrown France's right-wing into disarray and unleashed a bitter debate about dealing with the extreme right.

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's Socialist Party, which emerged with relative majorities in 12 regions but has only won five chairmanships so far, has also called on all five renegade conservatives to quit.

The heaviest pressure has focused on former defence minister Charles Millon, the new Rhone-Alpes council chairman whom Chirac himself telephoned to plead in vain against a power deal there.

Millon's one-time ally, former Prime Minister Raymond Barre, said Millon had committed ``a serious political error.''

Protesters denouncing him as a ``collabo'' -- the word for collaborators with the Nazis during World War Two -- have marched in Lyon, the region's capital, and the council's first meeting quickly degenerated into a shouting match.

Commentators have singled Millon out as the most shocking example of the compromises some mainstream conservatives are ready to make with the far-right.

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

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French right mulls new party after far-right deals
05:25 p.m Mar 25, 1998

PARIS, March 25 (Reuters) - French rightist leaders pondered on Wednesday whether they should form a new political party after five fellow conservatives made unprecedented deals with the anti-immigrant National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Four of the politicians from the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) were resisting calls to resign from regional chairmanships to which they were elected with help from the far-right grouping.

The fifth, Jean-Pierre Soisson, agreed to step down as chairman of the central Burgundy region rather than risk expulsion from the UDF party.

At a UDF strategy meeting in the French capital, former education minister Francois Bayrou, president of a party wing called Democratic Force, urged the creation of a new party within the next month or two to replace the UDF.

``Profound change is required. A page has turned,'' Bayrou told reporters.

``French democracy needs a big, strong party on the right and centre-right which is unified and responsible,'' said Bayrou.

Herve de Charette, leader of the Popular Party for French Democracy (PPDF), another UDF component, said he agreed.

``Tomorrow the PPDF will be willing to dissolve itself into a great coalition of the centre,'' de Charette said in remarks broadcast on the radio, adding that a great party of the centre must be built.

But UDF leader Francois Leotard, weakened after losing his own regional election bid, said he would call party leaders to a second meeting ``to take the next step in renovating the UDF and the opposition of which it is a part.''

``A new party will certainly not take care of the problems,'' former minister Daniel Hoeffel told reporters.

Alain Madelin, head of the UDF Liberal Democracy wing, said he had been ``very surprised'' by Bayrou's appeal as UDF members had seemed to agree on reform of the existing structure rather than its abandonment.

Soisson, announcing that he would step down as elected head in Burgundy, said: ``The decision has been taken. In line with the unanimous wishes of the elected officials of Burgundy's republican right, I have resigned from the regional chairmanship.''

An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people marched through the southwestern city of Toulouse in protest at the refusal of UDF politician Jacques Blanc to step down as chairman of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, which he won with National Front votes.

Leftist leaders have called for protest marches across the country on Saturday to demonstrate ``the rejection of fascism in France.''

France's rightist opposition, which also includes President Jacques Chirac's Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR), had been badly weakened last June when, in a stunning upset, it lost power in parliamentary elections to a leftist coalition of Socialists, Communists and Greens.

RPR leader Philippe Seguin said on Wednesday he saw no reason for his party to ``commit suicide.''

``The RPR will continue...We refuse to commit suicide by disappearing or dissolving,'' he told a party meeting in Paris.

He said RPR activists could ``hold their heads high'' as no deals were made between the Gaullists and the Front in the regional elections.

The UDF on Tuesday had given the five rebels a week to resign from their newly won regional posts or be forced out of the party after they defied orders and cut deals with the Front.

Both Chirac and Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin have endorsed major reforms in the French political system since the UDF politicians accepted National Front support to win control of five of mainland France's 22 regional councils.

That broke a longstanding taboo against working with the Front, which routinely wins about 15 percent of the vote in national elections. Le Pen embraces racial inequality and has said Nazi gas chambers were ``a mere detail of history.''

In televised remarks on Monday evening, Chirac had accused the five UDF politicians of harming France's image by playing ``political games'' with a party he branded ``racist and xenophobic.'' ^[email protected]

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Second French regional head quits in Le Pen row
04:53 a.m. Mar 27, 1998

PARIS, March 27 (Reuters) - One of five centre-rightist politicians just re-elected president of a French regional council thanks to backing from Jean-Marie Le Pen's extreme rightist National Front party, resigned on Friday under mounting pressure.

Bernard Hareng of the Union for French Democracy (UDF) party had been re-elected president of the Centre region, based around the city of Orleans southwest of Paris, exactly a week ago.

He was one of five outgoing UDF council heads who made behind-the-scenes deals with Le Pen's group to keep their seats in defiance of party leaders.

Hareng was the second of the five to resign after Burgundy region president Jean-Pierre Soisson quit on Wednesday.

Hareng said in a bitter statement: ``Media pressure -- and even physical pressure -- in direct contradiction of the normal functioning of a democratic institution, provoked defections among my backers which no longer allow me to carry out my programme. I therefore draw the inevitable conclusion.''

Thousands of angry protesters marched through Orleans on Wednesday calling for Hareng's resignation.

Three other regional presidents were still holding out including former defence minister Charles Millon, president of the Rhones-Alpes area around Lyon, who vowed on Friday not to quit.

The local, tactical alliances with Le Pen sparked a major crisis in the UDF with party head Francois Leotard saying he had called its five squabbling groups to meet next week to decide whether to keep the coalition alive.

Francois Bayrou, head of the UDF's centrist wing, called on Wednesday for the UDF, an unlikely coalition of centrists, progressives, die-hard conservatives and free marketeers, to be dissolved and replaced by a new grouping.

Bayrou's suggestion was opposed by Leotard and by former finance minister Alain Madelin, another UDF leader. All three make little secret of their ambitions to run for president of France in 2002.

Le Pen's anti-immigrant National Front took 15.5 percent of the vote in nationwide regional council elections on March 15, gaining kingmaker status in centre-right strongholds threatened by gains from the left.

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FOCUS-Protests throughout France against far-right
02:32 p.m Mar 28, 1998

By Crispian Balmer

PARIS, March 28 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of people protested in cities throughout France on Saturday against the far-right National Front and regional conservative leaders who have allowed it to slide a toe into the mainstream of the country's political life.

A sea of people filled wide boulevards in Paris in the day's largest demonstration. Police said the crowd numbered 20,000.

Organisers estimated that as many as 50,000 people turned out to demand that Jean-Marie Le Pen and his anti-immigration National Front remain beyond the pale of political alliances.

``This is an exceptional demonstration because we're living in exceptional times,'' said the leader of the ruling Socialist party, Francois Hollande. ``This is not about the risk, but the reality of an alliance between the right and extreme right.''

Smaller protests were staged in just about every other major French city against the Front, which polled 15.5 percent of the vote in this month's regional elections but is denounced by opponents as a throwback to Hitler's Nazis and their collaborator allies.

``We have to remain vigilant. Democracy has been trampled underfoot,'' said Robert Hue, head of the Communist Party.

The National Front denounced Saturday's marches, as an act of ``repression'' and an assault on democracy.

After the regional council elections two weeks ago, centre-right politicians in five of mainland France's 22 regions ignored orders from their national party leaders and formed alliances with the Front.

In the subsequent outcry, two of the five renegade regional presidents resigned, but three stayed put.

The marches were organised by about 50 leftist groups and unions. Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Moslem leaders also threw their weight behind Saturday's demonstrations, publishing a joint, toughly worded statement in La Croix newspaper to condemn the anti-foreigner Front.

``The leaders of the main religious movements in France are concerned about the place that has now been taken in French political life by the party that has never hidden its racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic ideas,'' the religious leaders said.

``Sixty years after a period when certain ideological aberrations and the indifference of many powers contributed to make the Holocaust possible...the leaders of the main religious movements draw the attention of all the French to rediscover the founding values of democracy,'' they added.

Front leader Le Pen says the Nazi gas chambers will be remembered as a ``mere detail of history.''

Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, the number two in the Socialist Party and organiser of Saturday's demonstrations, said he hoped the marches would persuade the three remaining regional presidents to think again.

``Resignations would force the National Front to look at why it is unacceptable. Sending the Front back into its ghetto would spark a strong crisis within its leadership,'' Cambadelis said in an interview with Liberation newspaper.

All three regional presidents come from the centre-right Union for French Democracy party and their decision to accept National Front votes has pushed their party into disarray with some UDF leaders calling for the group to be disbanded.

``There is a crisis in the right...which concerns us as well because being in favour of the republic and democracy we cannot pretend that the alliance with the extreme right is just a matter for the right,'' Prime Minister Lionel Jospin was quoted as saying by aides at a Socialist party meeting on Saturday. REUTERS

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Long Way Home'' wins best documentary feature Oscar
12:33 a.m. Mar 24, 1998

By Jeffrey Hodgson

LOS ANGELES, March 23 (Reuters) - ``The Long Way Home,'' a film about the lives of Holocaust refugees just after the Second World War, won the Academy Award for the best documentary feature on Monday.

The film tells the story of tens of thousands of concentration camp survivors and their attempts between 1945 and 1948 to get to what is now Israel. The documentary also examines how the world often turned its back on the plight of these refugees.

``This is for the survivors of the Holocaust, who walked away from the ashes, rebuilt their lives, and helped create the state of Israel. God Bless them,'' said Rabbi Marvin Hier accepting the award. Hier coproduced the film through Moriah Films Production at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, of which he is founder and dean.

It was the second Academy Award for Hier, who won in 1981 for his feature documentary ``Genocide.''

``The Long Way Home'' was the second film of the night dealing with Holocaust subject matter to win an Oscar. The first was ``Visas and Virtue,'' which won in the short film live action category.

``Visas and Virtue'' tells the story of a Japanese diplomat who provided visas to Lithuanian Jews to help them escape the German concentration camps.

``The Long Way Home'' won out over contenders including Spike Lee's ``4 Little Girls.'' Lee's film tells the story of the 1963 racially-motivated bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama church which killed four children.

Writer-director Lee is better known for his feature films which include ``Malcolm X,'' ``Clockers'' and ``Jungle Fever.'' It was Lee's second nomination for an Oscar. The first was a screenwriting nomination in 1989 for ``Do the Right Thing.'' REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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ThunderWave Announces Agreement With German Government, Goethe-Institut to Create Holocaust Multimedia Tools
10:16 a.m. Mar 30, 1998

ROCKVILLE, Md., March 30 /PRNewswire/ -- "So that we never forget," as the theme of the U.S. Holocaust Museum intones.

ThunderWave, a leading multimedia software developer, will work with the German government's Press and Information Office and the Goethe-Institut, the Archiv fuer Kulturpolitik, along with several leading Holocaust education organizations, to create multimedia educational tools to assist American and Canadian teachers in ensuring that the lessons of the Holocaust are passed on to the new, media-savvy generation. The educational package will allow North American teachers to benefit from innovations and unique methods being used effectively in Germany today, via media that will capture the attention of today's students.

This is the first program in which the German government and U.S. Holocaust educators will cooperate in the creation of an educational tool to pass on the knowledge of the Holocaust to a new generation. This project is the result of the first concentrated effort to consolidate Holocaust education projects developed by educators throughout Germany.

ThunderWave and its partners, with the support and input of the educational arms of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Association of Holocaust Organizations, will create a bilingual (English and German) Web site and a CD-ROM for distribution and use by the U.S. and Canadian educational communities. The educational tools will target teachers of grades seven through 12, and will be distributed by the Goethe-Institut and the American Association of Holocaust Organizations.

ThunderWave will use its unique experience in combining multiple media such as video, audio and photography to create a visually exciting, stimulating product that is useable in a variety of curricula. The materials are expected to be ready for distribution for the fall of 1998.

Various institutions in Germany, including schools, museums, Holocaust memorial sites, social organizations and a range of civic and community groups offer education about the Holocaust. These institutions have developed increasingly sophisticated instruction since the 1950s, most often for history classes. Students in many cases are encouraged to conduct their own research on the history of the Holocaust in their local communities. The multimedia package under development will highlight many such recent projects.

In the United States, although several states mandate the teaching of the Holocaust, there is no centralized educational effort. Students may learn about the Holocaust in a range of courses from social studies to English literature to Germany language studies. In both countries, educators and others are finding that the present generation, which is a further step removed from World War II, has an increasing desire and interest in learning more about various aspects of the Holocaust.

"Making information about these projects available to teachers in the United States and Canada is more than just a teacher training exercise - it is a work of reconciliation," said Count Hagen Lambsdorff, of the Press and Information Office of the German government. "We are working with ThunderWave and the Goethe-Institut to showcase and package a range of 60 programs being used in all 16 German states, because we believe they will help American and Canadian teachers adapt these materials to their classrooms." Up to now, lessons about German history and the Holocaust in U.S. schools normally stop with the end of World War II. The new Germany and the fact of regular teaching about the Holocaust in German schools are virtually unknown in many parts of the U.S.

"The Goethe-Institut wanted to participate in this project because one of our main goals is to encourage a cultural dialogue between countries, and among various divergent groups such as artists, educators, and leader of cultural organizations," said Regina Wyrwoll, head of the Goethe-Institut's media division. "By working with this team of experts in their various fields, including ThunderWave, various educational groups and the government of Germany, we expect to greatly further one of the most important dialogues of our day."

"We've seen that our medium is extremely well-received by young people raised with computers in the classroom, daily interactive sessions on the Internet, wireless devices to communicate creatively with their friends, and a wide array of TV, video and movie entertainment for recreational diversion," said Yechiam Halevy, president of ThunderWave. "Our technology as used by the Holocaust Museum and the new Getty Center continues to draw a new, young audience, that now can be extended globally through the Internet."

The Goethe-Institut is a worldwide, non-profit, organization promoting the German language and culture. It is partially funded by the Foreign Ministry of Germany. There are 13 Goethe-Institutes in the United States and Canada and some 140 Goethe-Institutes in 76 countries. The Goethe-Institutes carry out cultural programs, offer German courses and provide further training for German teachers, as well as modern libraries and multimedia information centers with up-to-date information on Germany and German culture in the host countries. The activities of the Goethe-Institut abroad emphasize partnership and dialogue. The Institute, in cooperation with host country organizations, treats issues and works on projects that reflect the current situation in each country. It provides information on German arts, science, politics and a broad concept of culture.

The German government's Press and Information Office provides information about contemporary Germany for opinion leaders worldwide.

ThunderWave Inc. is an interactive software developer specializing in server-based multimedia systems. The privately held company, established in 1993, is based in Rockville, Maryland. ThunderWave, a member of the American Association of Museums, is a recipient of the Computerworld/Smithsonian media arts award. The company was recently awarded a patent for its streaming technology. Its clients include the CRB Foundation, and the Jewish Community Center of the Upper West Side. ThunderWave is the developer of the networked interactive installations at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Wexner Learning Center in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. SOURCE ThunderWave Inc.

Copyright 1998, PR Newswire

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font size="+1"U.S. to Host Second Meeting on Nazi Looting
03:54 p.m Apr 01, 1998

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States announced plans Wednesday to hold a conference Nov. 9-12 on art, insurance and other assets looted by the Nazis from Holocaust victims.

The conference, to be held in Washington, would build on a meeting last year in London and seek broad consensus for further action in returning stolen assets to Holocaust survivors and their families, Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat and Miles Lerman, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, said in a statement.

The London conference, which focused mostly on gold looted by the Nazis, called for establishment of a fund to provide relief to needy survivors of Nazi persecution.

The United States also pledged to examine other Nazi-looted assets and provide a more complete picture of the complex issues surrounding them.

In their announcement, Eizenstat and Lerman said the Washington conference ``will fulfill that pledge and will deepen international research of the era, bringing together historians and other experts to share information on Nazi misappropriation of artwork, insurance policies and other assets.''

They also hoped the conference ``will act as a catalyst to help reach consensus on further action and complete the unfinished business on this issue'' by the end of the century.

A seminar will be held in Washington in June to organize the agenda for the November conference.

As with the London conference, the Washington meeting was expected to draw government officials from more than 40 countries, as well as historians, experts and representatives of major nongovernmental organizations, including those representing Holocaust survivors.

Organizers said it would aim to strengthen the international commitment to open national archives and other records for research on Nazi-looted assets as well as share the results of already-completed scholarly work on the subject.

The announced dates for the conference followed an agreement last week by Swiss banks to start negotiations with the World Jewish Congress and lawyers for class-action plaintiffs on a global settlement of claims emanating from the Holocaust.

Separately, a bipartisan group in Congress introduced legislation to set up a U.S. presidential advisory commission on the collection and disposal of Holocaust-era assets in the United States from 1933 to 1945.

``It is important that we know what art, gold, jewelry, bank accounts and other valuables were taken from Holocaust victims and ended up in the United States,'' Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse D'Amato said at a news conference. The New York Republican has been instrumental in pressuring Swiss banks to search records for Holocaust-era assets.

Speaking for the administration, Eizenstat endorsed the creation of the commission and said it ``will further strengthen the moral authority and diplomatic credibility of the United States ... on this issue.''

The 23-member commission would include private citizens and lawmakers and officials from of federal agencies. It would submit its report and recommendations to the president and Congress by the end of 1999.

Jewish leaders are seeking compensation for assets of Holocaust victims that were looted during the Second World War.

Last week's agreement, which Swiss officials stressed was far from an actual settlement, averted for the time being the imposition of sanctions on Swiss banks by state and local American officials.

The Clinton administration strongly opposes any boycott or sanctions move, arguing that Switzerland has made good progress on the issue and punitive action would be counterproductive.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Four suits filed for Holocaust-era insurance claims
09:39 p.m Apr 03, 1998

LOS ANGELES, April 3 (Reuters) - Four Holocaust survivors have filed suits against three major European insurance companies for unpaid claims dating back to the Nazi era, their lawyer said on Friday.

``It's gratifying to know the law would allow us to rectify the wrongs of 50 years ago,'' said attorney William Shernoff.

The four suits, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday, alleged breach of contract, unfair business practices and bad faith against Italy's Assicurazioni Generali and two German firms, Victoria Insurance Co. and Allianz Insurance Co. None of the suits sought specific damages.

Earlier this year, Shernoff's law firm filed a $135 million lawsuit against Generali on behalf of another Los Angeles family, alleging it wrongfully denied them insurance benefits.

The four latest suits filed involve:

+ Beverly Hills doctor Julia Sladek, who is the only heir to her father's Generali life insurance policy. He was head of an electric company in the then-Czechoslovakia and purchased insurance before the war to protect his wife and son who subsequently died in a Nazi concentration camp. All claims have been rejected by Generali, although Sladek had the actual policy, her attorney said.

+ Gabrielle Lansing, a 73-year-old woman whose grandfather was the director of Victoria Insurance and a leader of the Jewish community in prewar Berlin. Her suit was filed on behalf of her mother, Stahl's 100-year-old daughter-in-law, Sophie.

+ Nicholas Babos, 76, is the sole survivor of a family that perished in the Holocaust. His father had purchased insurance for his only son and Generali has rejected all claims, according to the suit.

+ Eugene Hofstadter, whose father was a cantor of a synagogue in Slovakia. The older Hofstadter purchased life insurance and dowry policies for his 11 daughters through Phoenix Insurance Co., which was taken over by Allianz. All claims by the family have been rejected, the suit said. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Hitler Cousins Seized by Stalin Pardoned
05:06 p.m Apr 03, 1998

By Robert Eksuzyan

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has granted posthumous pardons to several cousins of Adolf Hitler who died in Soviet prisons after being arrested at the end of World War II, the military prosecutor's office said Friday.

``They were rehabilitated in December,'' Sergei Ushakov, a spokesman for the military prosecutor, told Reuters. ``After a study of the archives, it was concluded they had no links to Hitler's crimes and were innocent victims of repression.''

``Rehabilitation'' and ``repression'' are key words used in formal pardons for the millions convicted on trumped-up charges under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Ushakov was confirming a report Friday in the newspaper Noviye Izvestia, which he believed was the first mention in the media of the pardons for a handful of Austrian farmers.

The paper named them as Hitler's cousin Maria Koppensteiner, nee Schmidt, whose mother Theresia was the sister of Hitler's mother Clara Poelzl, her husband Ignaz Koppensteiner, brothers Johann and Eduard Schmidt and Johann's son, also called Johann.

Though she had last met the future Fuehrer when he visited her home village of Spittal in 1906 when she was just six, Maria was arrested by the Red Army's anti-espionage unit Smersh in the spring of 1945 when they overran that part of Austria.

Sensing a propaganda coup, the Soviets, who were thwarted in efforts to capture Hitler himself when he took his own life, also rounded up the other members of her family. Except for the younger Johann Schmidt, all had spent the war on their farms.

Despite intensive interrogations and investigations, however, the Soviets found to their discomfort that not only had their prisoners had virtually no contact with Hitler but, apart from the younger Schimdt who served in the SS, they had taken almost no part in the Nazi political movement, the paper said.

They found that the Koppensteiners had employed a Ukrainian prisoner on their farm in 1942 -- but had paid him for his work.

The Koppensteiners did, however, occasionally receive small sums of money from Hitler's sister Paula and on one occasion, through his step-sister Angela, from the Fuehrer himself -- money to pay for the funeral of Maria's mother, Hitler's aunt.

After four years in captivity, Maria Koppensteiner was sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment.

The charge read that ``being a relative of Hitler, she maintained contacts with him and received financial support from him and, approving his criminal plans directed against the Soviet Union and other peace-loving states, she cruelly exploited a Soviet citizen during the war.''

She died Aug. 6, 1953, at a prison camp at Verkhneuralsk in the Urals. Her husband Ignaz had died of heart failure as a result of tuberculosis in Moscow's Lefortovo prison on July 5, 1949, the paper said.

Noviye Izvestia, publishing Soviet prison photographs of Maria and her younger brother Eduard, also printed Eduard's last letter, to the governor of Lefortovo in 1949, asking for clothes to replace those he had worn out during four years in jail.

He died of tuberculosis at Verkhneuralsk two years later.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Profiles of Ukraine's political parties and blocs
01:09 a.m. Mar 29, 1998

KIEV, March 29 (Reuters) - Thirty political parties and blocs are contesting parliamentary elections on Sunday in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine. The main contenders are:

LEFTISTS

COMMUNIST PARTY OF UKRAINE -- The biggest and best-organised left-wing party, it wants a halt to privatisation and opposes private ownership of land. The party is in opposition to the government of President Leonid Kuchma, attacking it over a huge wage backlog of more than $3 billion owed to workers. Its leader is Petro Symonenko, from the Donbass coalfield.

SOCIALIST AND PEASANT PARTY BLOC -- A centre-left alliance which calls itself ``FOR TRUTH, FOR THE PEOPLE, FOR UKRAINE!.'' It wants to change the government's present course and its leader, parliament chairman Olexander Moroz, once said Ukraine was ``a victim of the Third World War started by the International Monetary Fund.'' The bloc has criticised privatisation of strategic enterprises and strongly opposes private land ownership. Moroz is seen as a potential candidate for next year's presidential election.

The PROGRESSIVE SOCIALIST PARTY OF UKRAINE has broken from the Socialist party. Its strength is tough-talking leader Natalya Vitrenko, a strong opponent of Kuchma and his government. The small party says reforms have left Ukraine impoverished.

The small TRUDOVA UKRAINA (Working Ukraine) movement was formed just before the election by World War Two and Afghan war veterans and volunteers and emergency workers sent in to clean up after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

CENTRISTS

The REFORMS AND ORDER PARTY favours speeding up stalled economic reforms and more transparency in privatisation. It blames the government for not reducing the state's role in the economy. Led by Viktor Pynzenyk, a former deputy prime minister who quit the government last year accusing it of not being truly dedicated to reforms.

SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF UKRAINE (UNITED) -- backs reforms and takes an ambiguous line towards Kuchma's government. Headed by Ukraine's first post-Soviet president, Leonid Kravchuk, and former prime minister Yevhen Marchuk. Its image has been boosted by the endorsement of Ukraine's best soccer team, Dynamo Kiev.

PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF UKRAINE -- led by Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko, it is seen as the party of power, enjoying support from official media. It favours privatisation and increased investment as well as lower taxes.

HROMADA (COMMUNITY) PARTY -- an opposition party headed by former prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who resigned last year. He has since been accused of corruption, which he denies. Lazarenko once said his party was social-democratic in nature. It favours protectionism and is against foreign participation in Ukrainian privatisation. Lazarenko is seen as a presidential candidate.

The GREEN PARTY OF UKRAINE has surprised observers with a strong campaign showing thanks to well-organised advertising. While lacking powerful leaders, it has focused on the painful Chernobyl aftermath and ecological problems in the heavily industrialised east. Led by Vitaly Kononov.

The FORWARD UKRAINE! bloc was formed before the poll by Deputy Speaker Viktor Musiyaka and former justice minister Serhiy Holovaty. It questions the effectiveness of Kuchma's fight against corruption and organised crime.

The LABOUR AND LIBERAL PARTY BLOC - RAZOM! (TOGETHER!) was founded in the Donetsk region by former regional governor Volodymyr Shcherban and presents itself as pragmatic and pro-capitalist.

The AGRARIAN PARTY OF UKRAINE is widely seen as a ``party of power'' for rural areas, with a number of local farm bosses on its party lists. Headed by deputy Kateryna Vashchuk, it supports privatisation of land.

BLOC OF DEMOCRATIC PARTIES ``NEP'' -- a centrist bloc of two parties which includes several of Kuchma's senior advisers. Headed by deputy Volodymyr Yavorivsky.

SLON (Social-Liberal Group) -- supports closer ties with Russia, ``preservation'' of Russian culture in Ukraine and making Russian a second state language alongside Ukrainian. Led by Volodymyr Hrynyov, Kuchma's top adviser on regional affairs.

RIGHT AND CENTRE-RIGHT.

PEOPLE'S MOVEMENT OF UKRAINE (RUKH PARTY) -- the main national-democratic force behind Ukraine's drive for independence from the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Wants Ukrainian membership of the European Union and NATO, quick privatisation and private land ownership. Headed by Soviet-era political dissident Vyacheslav Chornovil. Foreign Minister Hennady Udovenko and Ukraine's top Chernobyl negotiator and Environment Minister Yuri Kostenko are on the party list.

The far-right has the small NATIONAL FRONT BLOC, uniting two extreme-right nationalist parties, the UKRAINAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY and ``LESS TALK!.''

A number of smaller parties, mostly centrists, have failed to make an impact in opinion polls. They include:

Christian-Democratic Party of Ukraine

Republican Christian Party

Social-Democratic Party of Ukraine

All-Ukrainian Party of Workers

The European Choice Bloc

Party of Spiritual, Economic and Social Progress

Party of the National-Economic Deveplopment of Ukraine

Party of the Regional Rebirth of Ukraine

Party of the Motherland's Defenders

Party of Women's Initiatives

Soyuz (Union) Party

Party of Moslems of Ukraine ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Lithuanian president dismisses neo-Nazi request
10:30 a.m. Mar 30, 1998

VILNIUS, March 30 (Reuters) - President of Lithuania Valdas Adamkus has flatly rejected a request from a neo-Nazi group to help it get official recognition, the president's office said on Monday.

The request came from the fringe neo-Nazi group the Union of National Socialist Unity of Lithuania, a statement from the office quoted Adamkus as saying.

``The president reiterates that democratic society cannot tolerate organisations that instigate national, racial and religious discord and coercion,'' the statement said.

It also pointed out that it was the justice ministry's job to register political parties and that the president had no legal powers to recognise any group.

Extremist groups have little support in Lithuania, which quit the former Soviet Union in 1991.

The group has been reprimanded several times by authorities for printing neo-Nazi literature encouraging violence against minorities including Jews and Poles and promoting an ``all-Lithuanian'' state.

However, no legal steps have been taken against it as prosecutors say it has so far not done anything illegal.

The union on Friday held a meeting and unveiled its new logo of a white swastika on a red background, the Baltic News Service (BNS) said.

Some 96 percent of Lithuania's pre-World War Two Jewish population of 220,000 was murdered during the Holocaust. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Latvia president appeals on SS parade criticism
11:02 a.m. Mar 31, 1998

RIGA, March 31 (Reuters) - Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis on Tuesday asked for understanding over a march of SS veterans which caused sharp condemnation from Russia and Israel but attacked senior state officials who took part in the parade.

Latvia was sharply criticised after 500 veterans of the World War Two Latvian SS marched through Riga on March 16, commemorating the formation of their battalion.

Ulmanis, in a rare formal statement in response to the criticism, said the SS legion was part of Latvia's tragic past, occupied by both the Soviet Union and the Nazis.

``The president believes we cannot reproach international society for not being informed about the details of our history and not understanding the complicated situation at that time in Latvia,'' the president's office said.

``However, independent Latvia has no links with totalitarian occupying regimes so the president believes the participation of senior officials in commemorative events by soldiers of a former occupying regime contradicts Latvia's chosen path of forming a democratic European state,'' he added.

No Latvian government officials took part in the parade but army commander Juris Dalbinsh and parliament speaker Alfreds Chepanis did.

The march, part of a weekend of events marking the formation of the SS battalion, was bitterly criticised by Russia and Israel as well as leading Nazi-hunting groups.

The former members of the legion say they were conscripted illegally but still view their fight on the Russian front as a national service after tens of thousands of Latvians and other Balts were sent to Siberia by the Soviets in 1941.

Critics say that whatever the SS mens' motives, it is wrong to celebrate a force that fought on the side of the Third Reich, the murderer of six million Jews.

The event continues to provoke domestic controversy as a leading government party, nationalists Fatherland and Freedom, tried on Tuesday to get March 16 named as a special day of commemoration.

The move was rejected by parliament's human rights and public affairs committee. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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U.S. deplores Latvia synagogue bombing, offers help
07:51 p.m Apr 02, 1998

WASHINGTON, April 2 (Reuters) - The Clinton administration on Thursday condemned the attack on a synagogue in Riga, Latvia as a ``cowardly and outrageous hate crime'' and offered help in finding the bombers.

The explosion occurred before dawn at the synagogue, which is in the Latvian capital's historic Old Town and was built around 1905. There were no injuries and police said no claim of responsibility was received.

``The government and the people of the United States condemn the cowardly bombing,'' State Department spokesman James Rubin said.

``The U.S. government has pledged to provide full support to the Latvian investigation of this shameless offense,'' he added.

Rubin's statement came after Latvian Prime Minister Guntar Krasts asked the U.S. embassy in Riga whether the FBI could help in the investigation.

The blast broke windows and damaged doors at the synagogue, drawing quick condemnation from Latvian officials as well as visiting U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke.

Holbrooke, special envoy to Cyprus and former Bosnia peacemaker, called the blast an isolated incident.

``It was an act of cowards in the middle of the night,'' he told reporters as he toured the damaged synagogue.

Holbrooke was visiting Latvia in an unofficial capacity as part of a brief tour of the Baltic states.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Nazi-hunting group, linked the attack to a March 16 reunion of World War Two Latvian SS veterans and called on Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis to outlaw all meetings of people who supported Nazi Germany. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Latvia to sack army commander over SS march
04:36 a.m. Apr 03, 1998

RIGA, April 3 (Reuters) - Latvia's top security body called on Friday for the sacking of the country's army commander for taking part in a controversial reunion of Latvian SS veterans, the Baltic News Service (BNS) said.

The meeting, including a parade through central Riga, was condemned in Russia and Israel. The veterans argued that they joined the Nazi fighting units not as fascists, but as patriots to avert any return of Soviet occupation forces.

BNS quoted President Guntis Ulmanis as saying the decision to ask for the sacking of army commander Juris Dalbinsh was taken by the national security council, a body which includes the prime minister, foreign minister and president.

The council also asked for the dismissal of Latvia's police chief, Aldis Lieljuksis, over the bombing of a synagogue on Thursday.

Parliament must approve the dismissal of Dalbinsh while the cabinet can endorse sacking of the police chief. Officials said both requests were likely to be met.

Ulmanis earlier this week sharply criticised Dalbinsh and other senior army officers for taking part in the SS reunion.

The synagogue bombing, which smashed windows and damaged doors of the building, took place early on Thursday and no-one has yet claimed responsibility.

The interior ministry said yesterday that police chief Lieljuksis had been suspended during an investigation into the bombing. He had failed to ensure the security of the synagogue after a swastika had been painted on its walls in December.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Latvian Holocaust monument defaced
11:36 a.m. Apr 04, 1998

RIGA, April 4 (Reuters) - A monument to victims of the Holocaust has been defaced in the Latvian port town of Liepaja days after a synagogue was bombed in the capital, the interior ministry said on Saturday.

``The damage done is that the monument has had black paint poured on it,'' a ministry spokesman said. So far police had no leads, he added.

The monument was to some of the estimated 70,000 Jews murdered during the Holocaust in Latvia during World War Two.

The blast at the synagogue on Thursday damaged doors and blew out windows and led to the dismissal of Latvia's police chief for having failed to ensure its security.

The spokesman also said police protection of all sites linked with Jewish history, culture and religion had been increased with police patrols visiting them regularly.

Acts of anti-Semitism are rare in Latvia although the same synagogue was bombed once before, in May 1995.

The synagogue blast was linked by leading Nazi-hunting group the Simon Wiesenthal Centre to a controversial march of Latvian SS veterans in March.

The veterans say they were fighting to prevent another occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union while critics say they were still fighting on the side of the Third Reich. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Latvian president pessimistic on country's image
08:00 a.m. Apr 04, 1998

RIGA, April 4 (Reuters) - Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis said on Saturday the bombing of a synagogue and controversy over a march of SS veterans had badly damaged the Baltic state in the eyes of Europe and called on politicians to undo the harm.

He said politicians had not done enough to improve relations with neighbouring Russia, which have steadily deteriorated since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

``A few weeks ago Latvia in the European context was at the same level as our northern neighbour (Estonia) and no-one really doubted it,'' Ulmanis told newspaper Diena in an interview.

``And now I am forced to hear that in two weeks Latvia has lost all that it gained,'' he added.

As Estonia was last week beginning talks on entering the European Union (EU), Latvia was in the limelight for wholly different and negative reasons.

The disasters began with a row with Moscow at the start of March over police handling of a protest of Russian-speaking pensioners and continued with a March 16 reunion of Latvian SS veterans.

The meeting was condemned in Russia and Israel and called ``regrettable'' by many local Western diplomats.

Latvia's image received another dent on April 2 after a synagogue was bombed, although official condemnations of the attack from all top statesmen were quickly forthcoming.

Ulmanis yesterday moved to sack army commander Juris Dalbinsh for taking part in the SS march. The veterans insist they had joined the Nazi fighting units as a patriotic act to prevent any return of Soviet occupation forces.

Ulmanis said the past attitude of Latvians to Russia had been to show as much arrogance as possible.

``The parties have now clearly to set out their responsibilities,'' he added.

Ulmanis said parties had to move more quickly to ease Latvia's citizenship laws, which have left most of the 700,000 Russian speakers stateless in a population of 2.6 million.

Integrating the large Russian minority through naturalisation is one of the tasks the EU gave Latvia to start entry talks.

Ulmanis said politicians should scrap a system whereby people are allowed to naturalise as citizens according to age groups, with the youngest first and the oldest having to wait several years. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Polish developer to resume work near Auschwitz
05:08 a.m. Apr 01, 1998

WARSAW, April 1 (Reuters) - A Polish developer, whose plans for a shopping mall near the former Auschwitz death camp sparked a row two years ago, has received an initial permit to build a parking lot with shops and catering facilities there.

``The Oswiecim (Auschwitz) mayor has made a decision on conditions which the developer must meet to begin construction near the Oswiecim museum,'' Katarzyna Kwiecien, spokeswoman of the city magistrate said on Wednesday.

She said that after submitting necessary documents, the developer, the Maja company, would get permission to build a parking lot for 150 cars and 50 buses, catering services, a book and a souvenir shop.

A leader of Poland's Jewish congregations, Stanislaw Krajewski, was quoted by public television as saying that he had no objections to the project.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp complex was the world's largest Holocaust site, where Germans murdered up to 1.5 million people in World War Two, mostly Jews.

Maja's original plans were to build a supermarket, garden centre and fast-food outlet, primarily for local townsfolk near the camp, but the plans aroused strong international criticism from Jewish and other groups.

In 1996 the government blocked the project. Maja's chief Janusz Marszalek has altered his plans to take into account directives of the International Auschwitz Museum Council on shaping the 500-metre protective zone around Auschwitz.

``The architecture of the buildings will have to be neutral and their colours toned down,'' Kwiecien said. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Poland returns Auschwitz synagogue to Jews
09:34 a.m. Apr 01, 1998

By Marcin Grajewski

WARSAW, April 1 (Reuters) - The Jewish community in Oswiecim (Auschwitz) in southern Poland on Wednesday recovered a synagogue in the city where Nazi German invaders set up the largest death camp during World War Two.

``Today, the president of Oswiecim (Auschwitz) handed over keys of the synagogue to the Jewish community,'' Katarzyna Kwiecien, spokeswoman of the city magistrate told Reuters.

It was the first Jewish property returned under last year's law on relations with Jewish communities, which allows Poland's nine tiny congregations to recover some properties lost during and after the Holocaust.

``It is symbolic that the first property returned to a Jewish community is located in Oswiecim,'' said Boguslaw Skreta, director of the Interior Ministry's religious affairs department.

The Jewish community in the region plans to hand over the synagogue building to the U.S. Auschwitz Jewish Foundation, which wants to open a Jewish history and Holocaust education centre there.

Part of the building will serve religious purposes, PAP news agency quoted Dorota Wiewiora, head of the Bielsko-Biala Jewish Congregation bureau, as saying.

``I am happy that our efforts have been successful...So far we have had only a small room for prayers in Bielsko-Biala,'' Wiewiora was quoted as saying.

Nazi Germans robbed and murdered most of Poland's 3.5 million Jews during the war and communal properties such as synagogues, schools and ritual bath houses were taken over by Poland's post-war communist authorities.

About 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered in gas chambers of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex, as part of Adolf Hitler's policy to exterminate the Jewish nation.

Many of the few hundred thousand Jews who survived the Holocaust left Poland, because of pogroms and anti-Semitic campaigns, often ordered by Poland's Soviet-imposed communist authorities.

Poland's Jewish community, now has only about 8,000 members and three rabbis.

The cash-starved Jewish congregations expect to reclaim some properties and to derive income from others to pay bills, provide social welfare for the old or look after cemeteries -- sacred in Jewish tradition -- which have fallen into ruin or been vandalised in the absence of anyone to tend them.

The government estimates that there are some 1,100 cemeteries, 350 prayer houses, 28 funeral homes, 27 schools, as well as hospitals and other sites that once belonged to Jewish groups.

The Interior Ministry's Skreta said he had so far received 71 applications from Jewish communities seeking the return of property. ``Many of them should be returned in the first half of this year,'' he said.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Tibet official says Hollywood movie a ``fantasy''
11:55 p.m. Mar 29, 1998

BEIJING, March 30 (Reuters) - A senior Tibetan official portrayed as a traitor in the Hollywood movie ``Seven Years in Tibet'' has slammed the film as a ``fantasy.''

The film casts Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, 88, as a villain who helped China's People's Liberation Army march into the Himalayan region in 1950 to establish Communist rule.

In an interview with Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, published on Monday, Jigme denied collaborating with Chinese troops. But he said resistance was futile.

``We didn't have weapons or training. How could we fight? How could we win a battle?'' Jigme said.

``Some Tibetans thought that if we are going to die anyway, why don't we fight to the end? I told them these are just rumours. There are 400 million Chinese and if they can accept it (Communist rule), why can't a million Tibetans?''

He added: ``I decided to dismiss all the militia and to send half of them home before the Chinese arrived.''

The movie stars Brad Pitt as the Austrian explorer Heinrich Harrer, who took refuge in Tibet and befriended the young Dalai Lama during World War Two.

Beijing defends its rule over Tibet as an exercise of historic sovereignty. It has denounced the movie and played up Harrer's Nazi past.

Jigme said most of the incidents in the movie, such as him sending Harrer a Tibetan robe as a gift, were made up.

``This is a sheer fantasy,'' he said. ``Even in my dreams I would never consider sending him a robe.''

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He won the Nobel Peace Prize 30 years later for his peaceful campaign for more autonomy for his homeland.

Jigme serves on an advisory body to the Chinese parliament.

Although critical of the movie, he said he was not bothered by his Hollywood treatment.

``I heard Chairman Mao say that anything the enemy is against, we will support,'' he said. ``Therefore, I feel happy when the enemy hurts me.'' ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Austrian evidence to help U.S. trace Nazis
09:48 p.m Apr 01, 1998

WASHINGTON April 1 (Reuters) - The United States received access on Wednesday to information in Austria that investigators hope will boost efforts to track down suspected Nazi-era war criminals, according to a statement from the Justice Department.

The deal permits reciprocal law enforcement access to witnesses and archival documents.

``This accord will renew the Justice Department's access to the treasure trove of documentary and testimonial evidence located in Austria,'' said Eli Rosenbaum, director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI).

The agreement ended an eight-year Austrian moratorium on legal assistance to the U.S. in Nazi cases.

Agreement between U.S. and Austrian negotiators was reached in May 1996. The Austrian parliament approved it in January.

The OSI was created in 1979 to track down and institute proceedings to revoke the citizenship of suspected Nazi war criminals.

The Justice Department said 58 people have been denaturalized, and 47 of them have been removed from the country. Almost 300 others are under investigation. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Austria Confronts Its Shameful Past

By William Drozdiak
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 4, 1998; Page A14

VIENNA - Sixty years after the Nazis marched into Austria and were treated as conquering heroes by wildly cheering crowds, a dramatic transformation is taking place in the way this nation of 8 million people looks at one of the most sordid chapters in its long history.

History books have been rewritten so that students can learn that Austria was not just the first victim of Nazi aggression - as it long pretended - but rather behaved in many respects as an ardent sympathizer and active collaborator in the diabolical aims of its native son Adolf Hitler.

In contrast to former president Kurt Waldheim, who for many years covered up his involvement in wartime atrocities, Austria's leaders now speak with striking candor about the fact that many compatriots were linked to Nazi crimes and that the rampant antisemitism that culminated in the Holocaust found fertile soil here.

More than a half-century after the war, Germany's neighbors are still struggling to cope with their legacy of collaboration with the Nazi regime. The ascendancy of a generation born after the war and the release of documents kept secret during the Cold War have done much to erode myths of resistance and states of denial that persisted throughout much of Europe.

France's trial of Maurice Papon, which concluded Thursday with the French wartime official's conviction of complicity in crimes against humanity, cast new light on the extent to which many French civil servants, including former president Francois Mitterrand, cooperated with the Nazi occupation. Switzerland has been forced to acknowledge that it was spared not because of a plucky army guarding its Alpine redoubt but because it provided useful financial services to the Nazis.

During ceremonies last month marking the 60th anniversary of the Anschluss, or annexation to Nazi Germany, Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima emphasized that the time was long overdue "for an open and critical debate so that Austria can draw the right lessons about its past."

He said it was "a long and painful process" to confess Austria's shared responsibility for Nazi crimes. But Klima insisted Austrians could no longer justify old myths about being overwhelmed by a foreign power. He noted that 700,000 Austrians were Nazi party members, that many held leading positions in the hierarchy and were guilty of complicity in crimes against humanity.

President Thomas Klestil, Waldheim's successor, also stressed the need to deal squarely with the Nazi past and to do whatever is possible to make amends to the victims, especially members of Austria's once-thriving Jewish community who were exterminated or deported.

Klestil lamented that "those who were expelled then were invited much too late, and unconvincingly, to return home." He said that while serving as ambassador to the United States in the 1980s he felt a particular shame in meeting Austrian Jews who lost their homes and belongings during the Nazi occupation from 1938 to 1945.

"I know how deeply they loved their old home country despite all that happened," Klestil said. "They would have had a right to experience Austria's rebirth, and I know that their contributions to our democracy and culture could have been invaluable."

Austria's changing assessment of its historical culpability has gone beyond words.

After two paintings by Egon Schiele loaned by Austria for a recent show in New York were seized because it was suspected they had belonged to Holocaust victims, Education and Culture Minister Elisabeth Gehrer declared that "immoral decisions" dating to the war must be rectified.

Gehrer ordered that once provenance is certified, all national art works confiscated by the Nazis would be returned to their rightful owners - a decision that experts believe will strip more than 100 masterpieces from Vienna's leading museums.

"It's just the right thing to do," Gehrer said in an interview. "I know it's a shame that it took so many years. We can't change history, but we can correct our mistakes. That's what this learning process is all about."

Austria announced last week it would resume cooperation with U.S. agents in the hunt for Nazi criminals. The deal revived an accord suspended in 1990 when Waldheim was barred from the United States, a step taken after the Justice Department concluded that as a lieutenant in the German army in the Balkans, Waldheim helped the Nazi SS deport prisoners to slave labor or death camps.

"This accord symbolically ends the Waldheim affair complex and marks the emergence of a new Austria, which we hail," said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress in New York.

School textbooks, which for decades nourished the myth that Austrians were the Nazis' first victims and suppressed the notion of any national guilt, have been rewritten to emphasize the direct complicity of many Austrians in the Nazi party and Nazi crimes. Vienna's mayor has decreed that the Steven Spielberg film "Schindler's List" will be required viewing for all schoolchildren in the city.

Klima acknowledged in an interview that the avalanche of foreign criticism during Waldheim's presidency from 1986 to 1992 was an agonizing and humiliating ordeal - one that made Austrians at times feel they belonged to a pariah state.

Once Waldheim left office, Klima's predecessor, Franz Vranitzky, moved quickly on many fronts to refurbish the nation's image and revise Austria's view of history so that it reflected painful truths about widespread Nazi sympathies. As the first Austrian leader born after the war, Klima, 50, says he feels a special moral duty to sustain that legacy.

"It's very difficult and makes many people angry and uncomfortable, but we must face up to the past however awful it may be so we can be sure never to commit the same mistakes in the future," Klima said. "And we have to put this process to work in the form of actions and not just words."

Klima says the need to confront the truth about the fascist era is not just a matter of coming to terms with history. He believes it also holds special political relevance for today's Austria.

The Freedom Party led by Joerg Haider has emerged as the biggest far-right movement in Europe and captured 28 percent of the votes in elections to the European Parliament last year. Haider has already staked his claim to replace Klima as Austria's next head of government after national elections are held next year.

Haider rejects any comparisons to Nazi or fascist forebears and insists he is a democratic populist who wants to break the stranglehold on politics held by Klima's Social Democrats and their conservative partners, the People's Party. Nonetheless, he has lived up to his right-wing reputation by publicly praising the employment policies of the Nazi regime and waging a xenophobic campaign to expel foreign workers.

"We must always be vigilant in fighting against racism, fanaticism or indifference," Klima said. "Given the nature of our past, we must never forget how people can be misled by populist demagogues."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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German town closed after World War Two bomb found
06:31 a.m. Mar 30, 1998

BERLIN, March 30 (Reuters) - A small town north of Berlin was closed off for several hours on Monday and thousands of people were forced to leave their homes after authorities discovered two unexploded World War Two bombs.

More than 10,000 people were evacuated from the centre of Oranienburg while the area around the bombs was sealed off.

Trains through the town of 30,000 were also brought to a halt while munitions experts to tried to defuse the 500-lb and 1,000-lb bombs, police said.

The two U.S. air force bombs were found in the centre of the town, which was devastated during the closing days of World War Two because Nazi researchers were believed to be working on atomic weapons there.

Oranienburg, 30 km (18 miles) north of Berlin, ranks among the most heavily bombed towns in Germany. Experts estimate that between 300 and 1,000 bombs are buried beneath the town, many beneath houses or buildings erected by communist East Germany after the war.

Scores of unexploded World War Two bombs dropped by Allied aircraft are found in Germany every year. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Nazi series to go out to wider public
10:34 a.m. Apr 01, 1998

BONN, April 1 (Reuters) - A German documentary series on Nazi leaders drew huge interest when broadcast on a speciality cable channel and will be aired on prime time television, public broadcaster ZDF said on Wednesday.

``Hitler's Helpers,'' a series about top Nazi deputies such as Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann and ``Angel of Death `` Doctor Josef Mengele, examines six men who were close to Hitler and includes eyewitness accounts, original film and cassette recordings.

The series will begin next week.

An earlier series on other leading Nazis broadcast last year on ZDF has been sold to television networks in 32 nations.

Documentary maker Guido Knopp said new material in the programmes included a tape recording of Eichmann in his post-war Argentine hideout saying he wished the Nazis had been able to kill more Jews.

``If we had killed all 10.3 million of the Jews...I would have been satisfied and would have said: Good, we have destroyed an enemy,'' Eichmann said.

Eichmann was captured by Israeli agents in Argentina, tried in Jerusalem in 1961 and executed.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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German police hold skinheads in attack on Angolan
03:11 p.m Apr 02, 1998

MAGDEBURG, Germany, April 2 (Reuters) - Police in the German town of Magdeburg said on Thursday they had detained two skinheads after a man from Angola was severely beaten in his apartment.

Police said two brothers aged 17 and 23 were the prime suspects in what they called a ``brutal attack'' on the 18-year-old man, who suffered a contusion and cuts.

Two attackers climbed into the Angolan man's apartment through a window and then set the bed on fire after beating him, they said.

Prosecutors were preparing charges of assault, arson and disturbing the peace.

There has been a rise in far-right violence against foreigners in formerly communist Germany in recent years.

Attacks against foreigners were also prevalent following German unity in 1990 but subsided after a police clampdown. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Battle lines drawn over Swiss Holocaust settlement
06:58 a.m. Mar 29, 1998

ZURICH, March 29 (Reuters) - Prominent Swiss politicians have ruled out using taxpayers' funds or central bank reserves to help indemnify Holocaust victims seeking payments from Switzerland for their wartime suffering.

Big Swiss banks agreed last week to negotiate a settlement of Holocaust-era claims against them from the World Jewish Congress and plaintiffs in lawsuits filed in New York accusing banks of hoarding their wealth.

But the banks alone will contribute to the Justice Fund they agreed to set up, thereby averting boycotts that U.S. state and city treasurers were poised to launch, the politicians told the SonntagsZeitung Sunday newspaper.

They rejected having Switzerland foot the bill for any global settlement of charges the neutral country took in looted gold, artworks and jewellery or that some Swiss companies' foreign units profited from Nazi slave labour.

``This is just an effort to force Switzerland into such a global settlement so that more money can be pried out,'' complained Franz Steinegger, president of the pro-business Radical Democrats (FDP), one of four parties in the governing coalition.

He rejected demands that the Swiss National Bank take part in a settlement because of its wartime purchases of gold from Nazi Germany, some of which it now admits must have been looted.

Allied claims for looted gold against Switzerland and the Swiss National Bank were dropped as part of the 1946 Washington Accord, in which Switzerland agreed to hand over part of the gold it took in during the war.

``There is now no leeway for more payments by the Swiss federation or the National Bank. Switzerland may not allow itself to be blackmailed,'' Steinegger said.

Christian People's Party head Adalbert Durrer also argued against a broadly drawn Justice Fund that would take in payments from a variety of sources.

``That would be an instrument that would open the door for all kinds of new demands,'' he said.

Swiss People's Party president Ueli Maurer took the same line: ``We will not go along with this,'' he declared.

The Social Democrats acknowledge that Switzerland may have to compensate some Jewish claims arising from the period, but want to deal with these on a case-by-case basis, the paper said.

The debate over who should pay to settle claims running into billions threatens to rile ties between Washington and Berne that have calmed down of late, the paper commented.

``The conflict is automatic,'' it said, adding U.S. media were now set to turn their attention to Swiss officials and not just the banks in the search for someone to pay.

U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland Madeleine Kunin put a more positive spin on last week's accord, saying it was a step forward by removing the threat of boycotts at least for the time being.

``I think relations have improved,'' she told Swiss radio.

Swiss politicians said creation of a new fund as envisioned in the banks' agreement could scupper Berne's controversial plans for a seven billion Swiss franc ($4.7 billion) humanitarian fund to help victims of poverty, disasters and human rights abuses.

The government proposed the Solidarity Foundation, to be financed by selling part of the country's gold reserves, as a way to lift Switzerland from the mire of accusations that it cynically profited from World War Two.

The plan -- which the government insists is not directly tied to the Holocaust issue -- must be approved by parliament and Swiss voters in a referendum.

``This is the end of the Solidarity Foundation,'' Maurer told the paper.

``Jewish organisations' repeated demands for money are destroying the Solidarity idea,'' added Ernst Muehlemann, an FDP member of parliament. ($ - 1.498 Swiss Francs) ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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CORRECTED - Swiss say did too little for Hitler gunman
03:19 a.m. Apr 02, 1998

      BERNE, April 1 (Reuters) - Swiss leaders did too little at
the start of World War Two to save a Swiss student from
execution in Germany for plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler,
the Berne government said on Wednesday.

It said Maurice Bavaud (correct) deserved ``recognition and a place in our memory'' for his abortive plan to gun down Hitler at a Munich rally on November 9, 1938 -- the day of the ``Reichskristallnacht'' pogrom against Jews all over Germany.

``We express our regret to those relatives of Maurice Bavaud still living,'' it said in reply to a question from a member of parliament, who had asked whether the government was prepared to grant Bavaud official recognition for his attempted deed.

Bavaud failed to get close enough to shoot Hitler at the rally and a week later fell into the hands of the Gestapo while still carrying the gun.

He ultimately confessed his plan, was sentenced to death and died on the guillotine on May 14, 1941 in Berlin.

The Federal Council, or cabinet, said it agreed with a 1989 government statement that a review of Swiss wartime efforts on Bavaud's behalf left ``a bitter taste about the authorities' negligence.''

``From today's point of view, the Swiss government and its representatives, including specifically the embassy in Berlin, did not do enough for Maurice Bavaud and therefore did not sufficiently live up to their responsibility,'' the cabinet said.

Switzerland's then-ambassador to Berlin Hans Froelicher told Nazi Germany of Berne's displeasure with the sentence, at the request of his foreign ministry, but also called the assassination plot ``a detestable deed.''

The cabinet said historical records also showed the Swiss foreign ministry had considered but then rejected the idea of offering to swap a jailed German spy for Bavaud.

The cabinet said Bavaud ``may have foreseen the doom Hitler would bring on the world and especially Europe.''

``He was among those people who tried to prevent this calamity, unfortunately without success. For this he deserves our recognition and a place in our memory,'' the government said.

Bavaud, born in 1916, was a Roman Catholic theology student. He defended the assassination plot in court by saying Hitler was a danger to humanity and to Swiss independence. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Soviets told of Nazi gold in Switzerland - document
10:01 p.m. Apr 03, 1998

By Arthur Spiegelman

LOS ANGELES, April 3 (Reuters) - Shortly after Switzerland agreed to return $58 million in Nazi gold to the Allies in 1946, the Soviet Union secretly told the United States the Swiss kept much more looted gold than they admitted having, according to top-secret documents made public on Friday.

The United States became so concerned about the information that it proposed in a State Department memo dated Oct. 24, 1946 that negotiations with the Swiss on the return of looted Nazi gold be reopened, the documents obtained by Reuters said.

Despite the attempts to reopen negotiations, the matter was ultimately dropped and the 1946 accord remained in place -- even though the United States knew the Swiss had not reported having $67.5 million in gold looted by the Nazis from the Dutch central bank and private citizens. That $67.5 million would be worth about $650 million today.

In March 1946, just seven months before the State Department memo, the Swiss signed a treaty with Britain, France and the United States in which it agreed to return $58 million in Nazi gold. During those negotiations, the Swiss admitted to being in possession of $88 million worth of gold taken from Belgium.

During the difficult negotiations leading to the March 1946 treaty, the Swiss National Bank representative often insisted his country's central bank had a ``clear conscience'' and took every precaution against receiving any looted gold.

According to a recent official Swiss historians commission report, Switzerland received $450 million in looted Nazi gold of which about $147 million came from private sources. The $450 million would be worth about $4.2 billion today and the $147 million, worth about $1.2 billion.

The March 1946 treaty has come under attack over the past two years as revelations about Swiss wartime dealings with the Nazis fueled an international controversy.

The October 1946 documents, discovered recently in the U.S. National Archives by researchers for the World Jewish Congress, said the United States should reopen negotiations with the Swiss on the March 1946 treaty based on new information provided by the Soviet Union.

The Russians occupied the half of Germany and had discovered a treasure trove of Prussian bank documents.

The memo, addressed from the State Department to the head of the American mission in Berne, said the chief of the Soviet Finance Division in occupied Germany had provided documents showing what the Prussian mint had shipped to Switzerland and that each gold bar could be identified by its stamp.

A source familiar with the documentation found in a two-year search of the National Archives, said the new documents marked the first time that the Soviet Union had cooperated with the United States in the hunt for Nazi gold.

The document noted that American officials who negotiated with the Swiss did not have information on the additional amount of Nazi gold in Swiss banks at the time of the conclusion of the treaty with Switzerland.

The records given to the Americans by the Russians showed that between Oct. 8, 1941 and Aug. 26, 1943, shipments from the Reichsbank, Germany's central bank, to the Swiss National Bank consisted of 5,239 gold bars valued at $67.5 million at 1946 prices. It came ``from private interests and the Netherlands Central Bank.''

The documents also show that the gold was delivered to the Swiss Central Bank as well to ``private Swiss banks'' -- a point that could take on special relevance because the big three Swiss commercial banks are currently the subject of a multibillion dollar class action suit to return Nazi looted assets.

The banks last week agreed to enter into a ``global settlement'' of these issues.

The October 1946 State Department document deemed the newly available information ``a discovery of sufficient importance to warrant immediate consideration...of a new approach to the Swiss on looted gold.''

The United States and the Netherlands approached Switzerland on negotiating terms of a new agreement but were rebuffed. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Swiss central bank declines comment on new data
07:57 a.m. Apr 04, 1998

ZURICH, April 4 (Reuters) - The Swiss central bank will not comment on newly released documents about gold looted by the Nazis and kept by Switzerland after World War Two, a Swiss National Bank (SNB) spokesman said on Saturday.

According to top secret documents made public in the United States on Friday, the Soviet Union, shortly after Switzerland agreed to return $58 million in Nazi gold to the Allies in 1946, secretly told the United States that the Swiss had kept much more looted gold than they admitted having.

The United States then proposed in a State Department memo dated October 24, 1946, that negotiations with the Swiss on the return of looted Nazi gold be reopened, the documents obtained by Reuters said.

Despite the attempts to reopen negotiations, the matter was ultimately dropped and the 1946 accord remained in place, even though the United States knew the Swiss had not reported having $67.5 million in gold looted by the Nazis from the Dutch central bank and private citizens.

In March, 1946, the Swiss signed a treaty with Britain, France and the United States under which it agreed to return $58 million in Nazi gold.

The SNB spokesman, Werner Abegg, said in declining comment on Saturday that it was up to the Independent Commission of Experts Switzerland, an international panel of historians chaired by Swiss professor Jean-Francois Bergier, to examine such records.

The commission had planned to issue a detailed report on Switzerland's wartime past on April 6. But publication has been delayed so that the report can appear in four languages simultaneously.

Abegg also said records showed that ``Allied nations had full details when they negotiated the Washington Agreement in 1946.''

Switzerland has been under persistent pressure about the role its banks played during World War Two. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Refloat of Nazi sub off Argentina coast considered
08:12 p.m Mar 31, 1998

BUENOS AIRES, March 31 (Reuters) - Two residents of southern Argentina have asked permission to refloat a German World War II submarine sunk off the Patagonian coast, a German Embassy official said on Tuesday.

German ambassador to Argentina Adolf Ritter Von Wagner ``received the letter and it is in transit,'' an embassy spokesperson said. ``We don't know what the decision will be.''

Antonio Rivera and Mirta Vicente pinpointed the location of the sunken German warship, which they claim to have seen in 1959, 1962 and 1966, newspaper La Manana del Sur reported.

Area residents believe Germans disembarked from warships on the coast in 1945 near the end of World War II.

Two other Nazi subs, a U-530 and a U-977, arrived in the port of Mar del Plata in July and August of that year.

Argentina was a haven for Nazi war criminals such as Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann, who was captured in Buenos Aires after the war, and Hitler's confidant Martin Bormann. REUTERS

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Australian government makes up ground in polls
07:02 p.m Mar 30, 1998

CANBERRA, March 31 (Reuters) - The Australian government has regained some voter support to be running almost level with the Labor opposition, two newspaper opinion polls showed on Tuesday. The Australian's Newspoll showed the primary vote support for the conservative coalition running at 41 percent -- equal to that of Labor and the government's best performance since January when they led Labor by four percentage points.

The paper said that the government's decision to sell its remaining holding in telephone company Telstra appeared to have outweighed attacks by Labor on the shareholdings of Resources Minister Warwick Parer.

In the Sydney Morning Herald, an A.C. Nielsen poll showed the government polling 40 percent, to trail the opposition by one point. The government had trailed Labor by eight points in a Nielsen poll two months ago.

On a two-party preferred basis, Labor led the government by four points with 52 percent of the vote.

In the March 1996 election, the coalition polled 47.0 percent of primary votes compared with 38.7 percent for Labor.

Prime Minister John Howard also held a slight lead over Labor leader Kim Beazley as preferred prime minister, with both polls showing Howard leading by one point.

However, the Nielsen poll found 56 percent of respondents did not approve of the way Howard had handled the controversy surrounding Parer's ownership of shares, through a family trust, in a coal-mining company.

Newspoll also found that support for the Australian Democrats fell to two percent, their equal lowest support reading in 14 years, while Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party increased support to four percent.

The Nielsen poll found support for both the Democrats and One Nation steady over the last month at six percent.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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INTERVIEW-Race official warns Australia at crossroads
09:38 p.m Apr 03, 1998

By Michael Perry

SYDNEY, April 4 (Reuters) - Racism in Australia is on the rise and racial tensions are straining the country, Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner Zita Antonios said.

Aborigines and Asian migrants were feeling the brunt of the increase in racial abuse, with complaints doubling in the past year, Antonios told Reuters.

She said a bitter debate in the national parliament on Thursday in which Prime Minister John Howard was accused of ``bashing black fellas'' would only fuel racist sentiments.

``We are at a crossroads on a number of very important race matters at the end of the 20th century in this country,'' Antonios said on Friday.

``I think the tensions are running very high and emotions are running very high. I think all of us really now just need to take a few deep breaths and stay calm and think calmly...''

A Race Discrimination Commissioner functions as part of the quasi-government Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission that monitors racial discrimination and human rights abuses and adjudicates on such complaints.

They could impose a fine on those who had committed racial abuse or discrimination in employment but could not send anyone to prison.

Australia could face an election this year focusing on race, if the government, as expected, fails to get its native title bill aimed at reducing Aboriginal land rights through the upper house of parliament.

Howard has said he would dissolve both houses of parliament over the issue and call an early election -- one which political, ethnic and church commentators unanimously said would divide Australia's social fabric.

Race has either dominated Australian politics or been an undercurrent of political debate since the conservative Howard government ended 13 years of Labor rule in March, 1996.

The maiden parliamentary speech of One Nation leader Pauline Hanson in September, 1996, in which she claimed that Australia risked being swamped by Asian migrants and that Aborigines received privileged treatment, ignited the issue.

``It has been a tough year for race relations in Australia,'' Antonios said.

``In the past 12 months, racism remained a contentious political issue and race discrimination Australian-style continued to dominate the landscape, featuring daily in local, national and even international media.''

Racial discrimination complaints rose substantially in the past year.

In Sydney alone, 375 complaints were registered in the year to June 30, 1997 -- double the previous year. Across Australia, 589 complaints were recorded in the year, but Antonios said many people did not register racial abuse.

In one incident, a 12-year-old Aboriginal girl in the state of Queensland was dragged out of her junior high school classroom by a group of boys and assaulted.

In another, an Aboriginal boy was asked to step aside while a school photograph was taken.

Antonios said the political debate had fuelled the rise in racism, but was not the sole contributor, citing technological change, high unemployment, droughts and floods as factors causing uncertainty and confusion in Australia.

``Within this uncertainty, confusion and anger, it is easy to perpetuate misinformation and to use racist stereotyping to scapegoat those we fear,'' she said. ``History shows that this is fertile ground to sow the seeds of prejudice and racial hatred.''

Australia was also suffering from the legacy of historical racism, particularly in conservative rural towns, Antonios said.

Aborigines have inhabited Australia for at least 40,000 years, but it was not until 1967 that they gained citizenship. Until then, Australia's indigenous population was regarded by law as flora and fauna.

``Tensions particularly between Aboriginal communities and non-indigenous communities are quite high,'' Antonios said.

``We are talking physical abuse in some cases, threats, and a general sense of hostility. Part of that is tied up with all sorts of misunderstanding about things like native title.''

Until the 1960s Australia carried a ``White Australia'' immigration policy which saw migrants undergo English dictation tests.

But Australia's immigration policy since then has resulted in one of the world's most diverse societies, with 23 percent of the 18.5 million population born overseas.

Yet in the past few years, Asian migrants have sensed a growing racial tension in Australia, Antonios said.

``Asian-Australians who have been here for 50 years, second and third generations, have for the first time felt very visible and have felt a sense of hostility towards them.''

Antonios said the past year had seen Australians trying to quantify the extent of racism. ``At some points throughout the year, it seemed as if the entire population was asking the question: Are we racist? If we are, how racist are we?

``We are not exonerated simply because others may be as racist as we are or even more so.'' ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Racist Comments: Automatic Red Cards?
01:00 p.m Mar 30, 1998

By John Mehaffey

LONDON (Reuters) - Racist comments on the soccer pitch should incur automatic dismissals, according to a British government report on racism in football released Monday.

A task force, headed by former Conservative minister David Mellor, said zero tolerance of racism started on the pitch and called for new guidelines on the law relating to sendings-off.

``A red card should immediately be shown for racist comments of any kind on the field of play and...the referee's report of the incident must make reference to the racist nature of the offence,'' the report said.

The Football Association launched an inquiry this month into allegations from Aston Villa striker Stan Collymore that he had been racially abused by Liverpool defender Steve Harkness. Harkness has denied the allegations.

Monday's report said racism was still a deep-seated problem in English soccer with young black and Asian players in England still encountering unacceptable levels of racial abuse on and off the pitch.

``It is a fact that young Asian and black players have to deal with a problem that does not affect other players: racist abuse and violence -- and the fear of it -- on and off the pitch.

``The threat of racism is a powerful deterrent to black and Asian people -- and particularly young people -- playing organized football. It can have a detrimental effect on a player's performance and persuade some to give up the game altogether.

``It is widely agreed that the emergence of an Asian player in top-flight football would do more than any other development to encourage wider participation in the game amongst the Asian community.''

The report added that soccer grounds were still seen as ``hostile and unwelcoming by ethnic minority communities, despite recent improvements.''

``Tackling racism is the key to encouraging more black and Asian children to play football.

``And, as the number of black and Asian players increases, behavior of racist character will be increasingly marginalized.''

The report identified a flaw in the legislation relating to racist chanting at soccer matches, saying the Football Offences Act defined chanting as repeating words in concert with one or more others.

``Spectators must be caught chanting racist abuse in unison before they can be charged with an offence. Those making abusive remarks in isolation are not in breach of the law.''

Consequently, the task force called on the government ``as a matter or urgency'' to make it an offence to use racist comments inside soccer grounds.

Sports Minister Tony Banks said he supported the report's recommendations.

``We all need to act and the government intends to do precisely that,'' Banks said.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said the proposals could make a real difference in tackling racism on the park and in the premiership.

``For too long racism has scarred football,'' he said in a statement. ``I am proud of the multi-cultural society we live in where we all have a part to play.''

Gordon Taylor, head of the Professional Footballers' Association, said the problem of racism went down to grass roots level.

``We must get it right there,'' he said.

Kick It Out (KIO), the organization running the national ``Let's kick racism out of football'' campaign, said in a statement it welcomed the report but expressed concern that a number of issues had not been covered.

KIO said it was particularly disappointed at the lack of recommendations concerning institutionalized racism, the absence of a greater role for the government and the absence of substantive measures on the issue of Asians in soccer. The report said English soccer had come a long way since the 1980s.

``In the 1970s and 1980s, racism was rife at certain English football grounds,'' it said.

``Racist chanting and abuse was common; bananas were thrown from stands and terraces at black players and football clubs were targeted by far right groups for the dissemination of racist literature.

``The national team in particular became associated with a far right following. Home games at Wembley were marred by abuse of black English players.

``Since then, English football has come a long way in a short time.''

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Israel Slams Arafat Visit to Anne Frank House
11:24 a.m. Apr 01, 1998

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A senior Israeli official on Wednesday dismissed as a ``gimmick'' Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's high-profile visit to the Amsterdam house of Nazi Holocaust victim Anne Frank.

Arafat, who on Tuesday visited the cramped rooms where the doomed Jewish teen-ager hid from Nazi occupiers during World War Two, had pledged to pass on his impressions to fellow Palestinians.

When asked about Arafat conveying such a message, Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh said: ``Not to express messages like this, by way of a gimmick.''

Frank and her family hid with other Jews from 1942 to 1944 in the concealed back rooms of her father's former offices.

They were finally betrayed and arrested in August 1944, just weeks before Amsterdam was liberated. Anne, 15, died of typhoid in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in the final days of the war, in late February or March 1945.

``If the Palestinian chairman really wants to express a message of recognition of the awful suffering of the Jewish people in the murder of six million, this is not the way,'' Naveh, who heads an official monitoring body tracking anti-Semitism, told Army Radio.

``If the Palestinians and the Palestinian leadership want to fight this phenomenon, first they have to put an end to the anti-Semitic propaganda in their own press.''

Arafat's visit to the Anne Frank house has split Jewish groups. Some accused the Palestinian leader of seeking political gain and reopening the wounds of Holocaust survivors.

Other observers held out the hope of a watershed in relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

``Arafat's visit to Anne Frank's house was very important because it clearly demonstrates a sensitivity to a crucial aspect of Israeli history and an understanding of the connection between the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel,'' said left-wing Israeli opposition parliamentarian Naomi Chazan.

``You cannot demand sensitivity and when you get it reject it as a gimmick. Therefore I would have thought that the government of the state of Israel would have applauded the visit as part of the historical reconciliation with the Palestinians,'' she told Reuters.

Anne Frank's story achieved worldwide recognition after Otto Frank, the only survivor, published his daughter's diary. It has been translated into as many languages as the Bible.

In January, a planned visit by Arafat to Washington's Holocaust Memorial Museum was called off after an outcry from Jewish groups accusing Palestinians of anti-Semitism.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Dutch Liberal withdraws over extremism claim
04:53 p.m Apr 04, 1998

AMSTERDAM, April 4 (Reuters) - A rising star of the Netherlands' governing VVD Liberal party said on Saturday he was pulling out of elections due next month following allegations that he once had extreme-right sympathies.

Hans van Baalen, 37, had already temporarily stepped down on Thursday as his party's campaign manager for the May parliamentary elections after reports that when he was a 16-year-old in high school he had written a letter to a right-wing party arguing for the repatriation of all foreigners.

Late on Saturday, reacting to an interview a high-school classmate had given earlier in the evening on Dutch television, Van Baalen said he had decided to withdraw his candidature for a seat in parliament.

Former classmate Kees Maasland said van Baalen had shown clear fascination for Nazi Germany when he was in high school and had admired the way Hiter had been able to manipulate masses.

Van Baalen denied the allegations, but said that he would pull out as a candidate for the well-being of his party. He is 29th on the Liberal party list and will not accept his seat if the VVD wins more than 28 seats. According to the latest opinion poll, published earlier on Saturday, VVD would obtain 37 seats.

Earlier, van Baalen had said he wanted to devote his energy to rebuffing the accusations that he had consorted with the far right as a student in Leiden.

His moves were seen as aimed partly at limiting damage to his party's election campaign.

A survey conducted on Saturday indicated the VVD would have lost two to 2.5 seats if Van Baalen had not stepped down.

Van Baalen admits having belonged to Pro Patria, a uniformed student fraternity in Leiden, but has denied writing the letter arguing for the repatriation of all foreigners.

``I have never written such a letter,'' he told a news conference on Thursday.

The VVD said it had not noticed any sympathy for extreme-right ideas in Van Baalen's behaviour since he joined the party.

The VVD hopes to return to parliament after the May 6 vote as the biggest faction.

The free-market Liberals currently play second fiddle to Prime Minister Wim Kok's Labour in a three-way coalition with the reformist D66. Recent opinion polls put the Liberals 5-10 percentage points behind Labour.

It is not the first time the Liberals have faced charges of racism. The party is fighting May's election on an anti-immigration ticket.

Earlier this year, its tough stand on which countries should be allowed to join European economic and monetary union (EMU) earned a rebuke from Labour for ``spaghettiphobia.''

Far-right parties, whose vote collapsed in local elections in March, have accused the Liberals of stealing their supporters. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Fatal shooting fans French school safety fears
03:34 p.m Apr 01, 1998

LILLE, France, April 1 (Reuters) - Government officials, parents and far-right politicians demanded tighter gun controls at French schools after an 18-year-old youth was fatally shot as horrified classmates looked on.

Initial reports said the youth, identified by police as Hassan Atrane, took a small-calibre pistol to school on Tuesday and, thinking the safety catch was on, asked a classmate to put it to his temple and pull the trigger.

Other reports said the boys were playing Russian roulette.

The classmate, identified by police as Foued Zarati, 18, was formally placed under investigation on Wednesday on suspicion of manslaughter, justice sources said.

He was not detained but was put under a judge's supervision and barred from returning to the school where the shooting occurred, the sources said.

The shooting took place at the back of a room during a science lesson. The teacher said she saw nothing out of the ordinary before the shot rang out.

Education Minister Claude Allegre told reporters he would seek even stricter firearms legislation than that already existing in France.

The youth wing of the far-right National Front, criticising French officials for doing too little against school violence, said metal detectors should be installed at entrances to ``high-risk'' institutions.

``This step is imperative if the schools are to remain places of learning rather than urban guerrilla zones,'' Samuel Marechal, the Front youth wing's national director, said in a statement.

Police say the use of firearms by teenage gangs in rundown areas with large immigrant populations has increased sharply in the past few years and they fear that American-style ``no-go'' ghettos could be formed in major French cities.

The phenomenon has fuelled the rise of the National Front and its firebrand leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. The party draws many votes from lower class whites living in or near such neighbourhoods.

Statistics show that it has taken over from the communists as the most popular political party among the French industrial working class.

REUTERS ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Papon knew nothing of Final Solution -defence
06:49 a.m. Apr 01, 1998

By Lee Yanowitch

BORDEAUX, France, April 2 (Reuters) - Counsel for accused Nazi collaborator Maurice Papon wrapped up his closing argument on Wednesday telling a French court his client could not have known about the fate that awaited Jews deported from France.

``How can one be an accomplice to genocide if one didn't know about it?,'' said lawyer Jean-Marc Varaut. ``How could anyone foresee this reality that defied all knowledge, all imagination?''

In a melancholy voice, the head of Papon's three-man defence team read out letters written by Jews in the Drancy transit camp outside Paris -- the last stop before Auschwitz -- telling their families they had no idea where they were being sent.

``The Jews didn't know. When people heard about ghettos and forced labour, they thought it was German propaganda. It's true, we know much more today. But what did people know in Bordeaux in 1942?'' Varaut said.

Papon, 87, is accused of ordering the arrest for deportation of 1,560 Jews, 223 of them children, in 1942-1944 when he was the number two official in the southwestern Bordeaux region and supervisor of its Service for Jewish Questions.

Papon, grieving for his wife of 66 years who died last week, sat motionless, wearing dark glasses and a black tie in a sign of mourning. He was due to speak later in the day before the jury of three judges and nine civilians withdraws to deliberate a verdict.

Varaut told the jury about Hitler's obsession with ``absolute secrecy.''

``Even the Jewish commandos at Auschwitz who exterminated their brothers were exterminated themselves a few days later,'' Varaut said, provoking grimaces of exasperation among lawyers for the civil plaintiffs.

At the January 1942 conference in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, where Hitler's lieutenants approved the plan for the Final Solution, only 30 copies were made of the minutes.

``And only one could be found in 1947 for the Nuremberg trials,'' he added.

Varaut said that U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were aware of the Final Solution and were responsible for not sending messages to Hungarian Jews, allowing more than 400,000 of them to be sent to Nazi death camps in 1944 in the space of a few months.

``It was a state secret. If they had said something, the Jews would have gone into hiding.

``They could have bombed the trains and the gas chambers without hitting the barracks. But they didn't,'' Varaut said.

In concluding his argument, Varaut pleaded with the jury to acquit his client, saying that it would be a ``scandal and an injustice'' to render a guilty verdict.

``You have presided over a great lesson. It does not require a vain sacrifice. An acquittal would not justify the actions of the (wartime French) Vichy regime, but would say 'no' to the injustice of a conviction,'' he said.

At that, the defendant began to cry.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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French think right wing has no answer to crisis
04:08 p.m Apr 01, 1998

PARIS, April 1 (Reuters) - France's troubled conservatives got more bad news on Wednesday when a poll showed more than half the voters thought they had no idea how to resolve a crisis triggered by election deals with the far-right National Front.

President Jacques Chirac is consulting with all parties except the Front to draw up a reform programme to revitalise French politics after a jolt to mainstream parties following last month's regional elections.

The right was thrown into crisis when five members of the Union for French Democracy (UDF) defied party orders and allied with the Front to win election as regional council chairmen.

The UDF has effectively collapsed since then.

UDF leaders announced on Wednesday they had followed through on a pledge to expel the three members of the party who accepted National Front support and have since refused to resign from their regional chairmanships.

The two others stepped down after their election.

UDF president Francois Leotard said that Rhone-Alpes chairman Charles Millon, Languedoc-Roussillon chairman Jacques Blanc and Picardie chairman Charles Baur were no longer a part of the UDF.

Fifty-seven percent of voters polled by Ipsos said they thought the right wing had no ``project for the future of France.'' Even within Chirac's Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR), the other main component of France's rightist opposition, 48 percent doubt the right has any ready answers.

Only 30 percent thought the RPR and its centrist allies had any good ideas for tackling the key issues of unemployment, crime and poverty, it said.

The poll also poured cold water on plans to restructure the fractured right wing, with only 12 percent supporting the most likely option of keeping two separate but allied conservative parties, the RPR and a revamped UDF.

Fifty-three percent of conservative voters said they wanted the two parties to merge, an idea most right-wing leaders reject.

The RPR stands for traditional Gaullism while the UDF is an alliance of liberals, Christian Democrats and centrists. UDF leaders say they intend to restructure their party by this summer.

Asked what the right wing should do, the same majority -- 56 percent -- said it should come up with new policies and fight against the National Front, which Chirac has branded as ``racist and xenophobic.'' ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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Le Pen says boosted as leader of French far-right
08:54 a.m. Apr 03, 1998

By Irwin Arieff

PARIS, April 3 (Reuters) - French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen said on Friday that a court ruling stripping him of his eligibility for public office for two years would only strengthen him as leader of the National Front.

He contended that the judgement, which he plans to appeal, was part of a mysterious plot by Freemasons and unnamed others intended to drive him out of politics.

But Le Pen said this would backfire by drawing more and more voters, disgusted with the mainstream parties, to the Front.

The alleged plotters' goal ``is clear -- to weaken and then eliminate the National Front, the sole movement that has shown constant growth and been able to provide an alternative to 30 years of ruinous and criminal politics,'' he told a news conference at party headquarters.

A court in Versailles outside the French capital on Thursday withdrew the firebrand leader's civil rights for two years, fined him 23,000 francs ($3,700) and gave him a three-month suspended prison term for assaulting a Socialist parliamentary candidate during last year's general election campaign.

The decision meant Le Pen could be ineligible to run in next year's European Parliament elections, and he also could lose his seats in the European parliament and a regional council in southern France.

But an appeal by the 69-year-old former paratrooper, who polled 15 percent of the vote in the 1995 presidential election, would put off any implementation of the sentence until all legal avenues had been exhausted.

``I am not ineligible,'' Le Pen said on Friday. ``I could become ineligible at a particular time, but I probably will not be.''

The case dates back to last May when Le Pen was videotaped by several television crews manhandling Socialist candidate Annette Peulvast in the Paris suburb of Mantes-La-Jolie while helping his daughter Caroline to campaign against her in the same district. Peulvast won the seat.

Le Pen was also convicted of kicking two anti-Front protesters and verbally abusing another. He denied any wrongdoing, insisting he was provoked.

Le Pen, whose anti-immigrant party scored 15.3 percent of the vote nationally and won a kingmaker role in several areas in last month's regional elections, had said ahead of the judgement that his supporters could rebel if the court barred him from public office.

He also said that such a sentence would mean his ``civil death.''

But Le Pen on Friday insisted he did not consider himself to be above the law.

And asked whether he was now politically dead, he said only that the sentence ``could be interpreted'' in this way.

``It is obvious this is what they wanted, what the prosecutor wanted,'' he said.

Asked for specifics about the role played by Freemasons in the supposed plot against him, he responded without providing details that they ``play a central role...in the combat brought against the National Front'' and were present throughout the state bureaucracy and justice system.

Several mainstream political leaders predicted the ruling would weaken Le Pen's hand within the party at a time when his two deputies were openly vying to be his successor.

But Le Pen insisted his role in the party would be unaffected. Deputies Bruno Megret and Bruno Golnisch, seated on either side of him during the news conference, quickly concurred. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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French far-rightist's regional slot challenged
10:16 a.m. Apr 04, 1998

PARIS, April 4 (Reuters) - The Socialist president of France's Haute Normandy region vowed on Saturday to overturn the surprise election of a member of the far-right National Front as one of the regional council's vice-presidents.

In a new twist to the alliance of right-wing dissidents with the National Front which plunged the right into disarray after last month's regional elections, Dominique Chaboche became on Friday the first Front member to win a regional vice-presidency.

He defeated a Communist contender with the votes of the 10 Front members and 18 out of 20 conservatives on the council.

Regional President Alain Le Vern said he would order a fresh poll for the four vice-presidencies and ask conservatives to reconsider their support for Chaboche.

The Front said Chaboche's election was intended to stop the ``Social-Communist'' alliance which rules the central government.

The regional elections produced hung assemblies in many regions, leaving the anti-immigrant National Front as kingmaker.

The right was thrown into crisis when five members of the Union for French Democracy (UDF) the second largest conservative opposition group, defied party orders and allied with the Front to win election as regional council chairmen last month.

Two of them have since stepped down. The three others, Rhone-Alpes chairman Charles Millon, Languedoc-Roussillon chairman Jacques Blanc and Picardie chairman Charles Baur, have been expelled from the UDF.

The dissidents' alliance with the Front, which had been held at arms' length by mainstream parties, jolted the political scene and prompted President Jaques Chirac to announce reforms to try revitalise French politics.

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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German prosecutors seek charges against Le Pen
11:05 a.m. Apr 03, 1998

MUNICH, April 3 (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Munich, backed by fresh evidence that Jean-Marie Le Pen publicly trivialised the Holocaust, on Friday launched efforts to bring the French far-right leader to trial in Germany.

State prosecutor Helmut Meyer-Staude said he asked the European Parliament, of which Le Pen is a member, to lift Le Pen's immunity against prosecution following anti-Jewish comments he allegedly made in Munich earlier this year.

Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant National Front, was reported to have referred to the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis as a ``mere detail'' of history at the launch of a biography ``Le Pen the Rebel'' written by a German right-wing extremist.

Meyer-Staude said his office had received a tape from a publishing house in which Le Pen is heard making the remark.

Until now, Le Pen's immunity has meant investigations had only reached a preliminary stage, Meyer-Staude said.

It is illegal in Germany to trivialise or deny the Holocaust. The maximum penalty for the offence, known as the ``Auschwitz lie,'' is five years in jail and a stiff fine.

The alleged remarks sparked investigations in Germany and France, where Le Pen was convicted 11 years ago and fined 1.2 million francs ($193,000) for similar statements.

In a separate case, Le Pen was convicted on Thursday in a French court of assaulting a Socialist woman politician and stripped of his civil rights for two years.

The verdict included a suspended three-month prison sentence and a fine of 23,000 francs.

The decision by a court in Versailles meant Le Pen could be ineligible to run in next year's European Parliament elections, important ones for his National Front party, which has been gaining influence in French regional elections.

It also theoretically means he could be stripped of his electoral mandates as a European Parliament member and a regional councillor in southern France.

But the 69-year-old former paratrooper, who polled 15 percent of the vote in France's 1995 presidential election, was expected to appeal against the verdict.

This would mean none of the measures against him could be enacted until he exhausted all possible appeals, a process likely to take two years, possibly beyond the date for the next European Parliament election.

But the majority bloc in the European Parliament in Strasbourg is not interested in waiting that long.

Pauline Green, leader of the 213-strong Socialist Group, has called for Le Pen's expulsion from the assembly.

($ - 6.209 French Francs)

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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The request follows media reports that Le Pen, attending the
09:21 a.m. Apr 03, 1998

The request follows media reports that Le Pen, attending the presentation of a book about him in Munich last December, described the gas chambers used in Nazi death camps as a ``mere detail'' of World War Two.

In Germany it is illegal to trivialise or deny the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust. The maximum penalty for the offence, known as the ``Auschwitz lie,'' is five years jail and a stiff fine.

Meyer-Staude said his office had received a tape from one publishing concern in which Le Pen is heard making the remark. Until now, Le Pen's immunity has meant investigations had only reached a preliminary stage, Meyer-Staude said.

The prosecutor's request follows Le Pen's conviction on Thursday in a French court on a separate assault charge, a decision which could put his electoral mandates as a European Parliament member and a regional councillor in southern France at risk. ^[email protected]

Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.


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