French Jews worried by win of rightist National Front Party

PARIS — French Jewish leaders are warning that the right-wing National Front Party is "endangering the foundations of the republic."

The warning came after the party won control of the southern French town of Vitrolles.

Catherine Megret, 37, beat Socialist incumbent Jean-Jacques Anglade by 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent in Sunday's mayoral runoff contest.

Megret's victory came as a shock to the political establishment, which had called for a general mobilization against the extreme-right, anti-immigrant party.

National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has made anti-Semitic remarks in the past, won 15 percent of the vote in the 1995 presidential elections.

The CRIF, France's umbrella group for secular Jewish organizations, called on "all of our country's democrats to bar the way to Le Pen and his party."

CRIF warned that France was being "contaminated by the National Front's neo-Petainist ideas." Philippe Petain was head of France's wartime Vichy regime, which collaborated with the Nazis.

Riots broke out outside the town hall shortly after the election results became official, and police intervened, using tear gas to disperse the protesters.

Pierre Aidenbaum, president of the League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, said France "is the only country in Europe where big cities are run by a neofascist party that recalls the darkest years of our history."

The Front, which advocates sending home France's 3 million mostly North African immigrants and reserving jobs and welfare benefits for French nationals, won control of three other southern cities in 1995: Orange, Marignan and Toulon.