Tens of thousands of people marched through Paris and other French cities on Sunday to denounce racism and anti-Semitism following the torture and killing of a young Jewish kidnap victim.
Politicians from left and right joined the marchers under banners declaring “France united against barbarism” to express their shock over the gang killing, which Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has denounced as an anti-Semitic crime.
Mobile phone salesman Ilan Halimi, 23, was found naked, with burns and stab wounds, south of Paris earlier this month after being held for three weeks by a gang demanding a large ransom. He died of his injuries shortly afterwards.
Youssef Fofana, a French citizen, has been arrested in Ivory Coast on suspicion of leading the gang that kidnapped him.
“There is no political connotation (to the march). This is a demonstration by the people of France who are more than outraged by what happened,” said Joseph Sitruk, France’s chief rabbi.
“We are here also to say that all racist crimes are unacceptable in our society and that we must be very vigilant because it is a situation which is starting to be worrying,” said Jean-Michel Quillardet, head of the Grand Orient of France.
Thousands more people marched in other cities. In the southwestern city of Bordeaux, protesters marched behind a photograph of Halimi reading: “Rest in peace, Ilan.”
Marchers in Paris included Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy from the centre right, and Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande and former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin form the left wing.
Independent right-wing politician Philippe de Villers was prevented from taking part. Police escorted him away because his presence angered many of the Paris marchers.
Tension ran high at times in Paris as a group of angry young people, some of them wearing masks, chanted violent slogans against Fofana. Police kept a close watch nearby.
The murder has shocked France, which has Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish minorities. Muslims number about 5 million and Jews 600,000.
Many Arabs and Jews are immigrants and live uneasily side-by-side in poor neighbourhoods. Disaffected Muslim youths were widely blamed for a wave of anti-Semitic violence earlier this decade.
Thirteen people have been indicted in Paris in the case, of whom 11 are being held. Five more have been detained elsewhere in France and a suspect has been arrested in Belgium.
Fofana is expected to be handed over to French authorities once legal formalities are sorted out.
French police have said Fofana called himself the “brain of the barbarians” and accuse his gang of trying to kidnap six other people, four of them Jewish.
President Jacques Chirac and Villepin attended a memorial ceremony for Halimi on Thursday. Interim Ivory Coast Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny has said he does not think the crime had an anti-Semitic connotation.