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Demonstrations in France Against Racism, Anti-Semitism

Thousands of people participated in demonstrations in several major French cities, to protest signs of mounting racism following the brutal killing of a young Jewish salesman earlier this month.

Hundreds of people packed the Place de la Republique in northern Paris on a brutally cold afternoon to participate in a silent march against racism and anti-Semitism. The demonstration gathered some of France's top political and religious figures, including Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

The demonstration takes place almost two weeks after the kidnapping, torture and killing of telephone salesman Ilan Halimi. French authorities say Halimi was targeted in part because he was a Jew, and the alleged perpetrators assumed he would therefore have money, or that members of France's Jewish community would pay a hefty ransom.

Halimi's killing has shocked the nation. At the Paris demonstration, 55-year-old French physician Albert Herkowicz said he believes anti-Semitism remains a serious problem in France.

Herkowicz, who is Jewish, thinks there is a worrying atmosphere of hatred - not only against Jews, but against immigrants in France. It is quite disagreeable, he says. He believes racist sentiments are shared, not only by the far right here, but also by a small slice of Islamist radicals in France.

Nearby, 68-year-old Clemence Slama clutched a poster with a photo of Halimi that read: "Our assassinated child."

"It is horrible," said Slama, referring to Halimi's brutal killing. "I feel sick about it. Those who killed the young man cannot be people - they must be animals."

Authorities have arrested more than a dozen people in connection with the killing.

France was hit by a wave of anti-Semitic acts a few years ago, coinciding with Israeli-Palestinian clashes. Reports indicate the number of incidents has dropped significantly during the past two years. But many French appear to think otherwise. A poll published Sunday found more than half those surveyed believe the country is confronted by mounting racism and anti-Semitism.