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Interior minister fined for racial remark amid calls for resignation

A French court fined Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux €750 on Friday for making a racial remark in reference to a party member of Arab origin during an informal political gathering last year. Hortefeux says he will appeal.


AFP - A court convicted France's Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux on Friday for voicing a racial insult about a young man of Arab origin.

The Paris court fined Hortefeux 750 euros (900 dollars) and ordered him to pay 2,000 euros in damages for comments he made last September about a young activist of the ruling right-wing UMP party of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"When there's one, it's OK. It's when there are a lot of them that there are problems," Hortefeux, 52, said in a filmed encounter in September.

He was apparently referring to a young man of Algerian parentage -- one of France's large community of north African origin -- with whom he was getting ready to pose for a photo.

The film sparked accusations of racism and calls for the minister's resignation when it was posted on Le Monde newspaper's website.

The court on Friday did not hand down a criminal conviction since it judged that Hortefeux had not intended the comments to be heard in public, but found him guilty of a lesser offence of racial insult.

The damages were awarded to MRAP, an anti-racism group that brought the case against him.

One of Hortefeux's lawyers, Nicolas Benoit, said the minister would "immediately" appeal the conviction.

Hortefeux had denied that his comments referred to the man's race and the young party activist himself told Le Monde that the minister's comments had been taken out of context.

Sarkozy also defended Hortefeux in the controversy.

The spokesman for the opposition Socialist party, Benoit Hamon, said after Friday's verdict that Hortefeux should have the "dignity" to resign.

He said he should first "apologise and [then] step down."

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