|French plea as cemetery defaced|
Tuesday, 1 April, 2003
Etaples contains 11,000 war graves
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has pleaded for trans-Atlantic tolerance after graffiti was daubed on a British war cemetery in northern France.
Slogans reading "Death to Yankees" and "Rosbeefs (Brits) go home" were painted on the central memorial in Etaples, near the Channel port of Boulogne in northern France.
The slogans also called for UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush to be sent to the international criminal court in The Hague.
"Saddam Hussein will win and spill your blood", one slogan read.
Another claimed the graves were "contaminating" French soil.
Our disagreement with the British and American governments (on Iraq) can in no way justify any assault on the memory of men who sacrificed themselves for our country
Former French minister
The graffiti appeared on 26 March - six days after the start of the war in Iraq, which France had fought to prevent.
Mr Raffarin, without making reference to the incident, pleaded on Tuesday for anti-American feeling to be restrained, calling displays of such sentiment "unacceptable".
"It is indispensable to be vigilant against all displays of anti-Americanism, which would be unacceptable," spokesman Jean-Francois Cope quoted Mr Raffarin as telling parliamentary leaders at a meeting on Tuesday.
The government should also be on guard for any signs of racism, anti-Semitism or xenophobia in the frequent protests against the war, Mr Cope quoted him as saying.
A judicial enquiry has been opened into the Etaples attack, which was condemned by senior French politicians.
"This violation of a burial place - scandalous in itself - is an attack on the memory of the sacrifice made by the British and American soldiers who contributed to the liberation of our soil," said the local member of parliament, former Socialist arts minister Jack Lang.
"Our disagreement with the British and American governments (on Iraq) can in no way justify any assault on the memory of men who sacrificed themselves for our country."
Mr Raffarin's warning was the latest in a series of comments apparently aimed at healing the deep rift with the US and UK which opened up over the Iraq crisis.
Mr Raffarin has already said that France is not an enemy of the United States, while the Foreign Ministry has issued a statement saying Paris hoped US-led forces would win the war in Iraq.
34% - support US-led forces
25% - support Iraq
31% - support neither side
Source: Le Monde/TF1 poll
As the government attempts to mend fences with Washington, public opinion appears to remain firmly against the war.
And in a poll published by Le Monde newspaper and TF1 television station on Monday, 25% of those questioned said they supported Iraq in the war. Only 34% of the 946 people questioned said they were "on the side" of the US-led forces.
Just over 30% said they supported neither side.
As public feelings continue to run high, the government is also worried that the frequent protests against the war could become a forum for anti-Semitism.
Figures released last week showed a big rise in racist and anti-Semitic activity since the 11 September attacks on the US.
We are pretty hacked off and I am pleased to say the French authorities are too
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Two French Jewish people were attacked at a recent anti-war protest in Paris.
Mr Raffarin's government "will not tolerate any racist, anti-Semitic or xenophobic acts," Mr Cope quoted him as saying.
The defaced Etaples cemetery is one of the biggest in northern France. Around 11,000 fallen British soldiers are buried there. It lies near the site of several wartime hospitals.
"We are pretty hacked off and I am pleased to say the French authorities are too," said Tim Reeves, of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).