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French Rightist Says Nazi Occupation Wasn't Brutal

The French government says it is trying to determine whether veteran far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen broke the law by saying that the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two had not been as brutal as is commonly portrayed.

Mr. Le Pen's latest remark downplaying the occupation comes as Europe's news media are criticizing Britain's Prince Harry for wearing a Nazi swastika at a costume party.

Sixty years after it ended, World War Two is still a sensitive subject in Europe. And, according to the French establishment, you can always count on Jean-Marie Le Pen to dredge it up whenever he feels he needs attention.

The pugnacious 76-year-old founder of the far-right National Front, who has been convicted several times for making racist or anti-Jewish statements, has again become the center of attention for describing the Nazi occupation of France as, in his words, "not particularly inhumane."

He made the remarks in an interview with a low-circulation, far-right publication. But they did not come to light until this week, when they were picked up by the mainstream daily "Le Monde".

The Justice Ministry says it is investigating whether Mr. Le Pen's comments constitute a denial of crimes against humanity or an apology for war crimes, both of which are criminal offenses.

Jewish groups, anti-racism associations, veterans' groups and political parties were outraged by Mr. Le Pen's remarks. They compared his latest outburst with his oft-quoted description of Nazi gas chambers as a detail of the history of World War Two.

But Mr. Le Pen stood by his comments.

He says that if one compares the German occupation of France with the occupation of certain other European countries, it was less painful in France.

The far-right leader also downplayed the deportation of more than 70,000 French Jews to death camps during the occupation, saying it was preferable to be deported than to be shot outright.

He accused the government of trying to deny his freedom of speech and says his remarks are being used to discredit his campaign against the European Union's constitution, which faces a referendum in France in the months ahead.

Mr. Le Pen's latest attempt to rewrite history was overshadowed in the rest of Europe by the scandal involving Britain's Prince Harry and his Nazi armband.

The news media in Germany, where any display of the swastika is a criminal offense, were stunned by the young prince's gaffe.

Michael Stuerwer, an editor at the newspaper Die Welt, says Prince Harry seems to be insensitive toward history.

"I have every sympathy and admiration for British eccentricity, but this is beyond the pale, there's no question. And in this country, he would most likely face prosecution," Mr Stuerwer says.

Mr. Stuerwer and other German commentators say Prince Harry's blunder was especially ill-timed, coming as it does only two weeks before the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.