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Group limits charity by serving pork

French extremists denounced in Nice

NICE, France -- An extreme-right French group has found a way to distribute Christmas cheer only to a chosen few by offering homeless people free hot soup containing pork, which observant Jews and Muslims do not eat.

The soup kitchen, set up at the harbor of this Riviera town, draws about as many protesters as poor people.

Police stand guard between it and a Catholic charity group distributing vegetable soup outside their church.

Dominique Lescure, head of the small ultranationalist group distributing the soup, disputed charges by angry protesters Wednesday evening that what he called his ''patriots' soup" was meant to exclude Jews and Muslims.

''I don't see why I should not be able to put pork, which has always played a major role in my country's cuisine, into a traditional soup that I want to distribute, admittedly, to my compatriots and European homeless people," he argued.

''I'm not excluding anyone," he shouted in a heated exchange with a handful of jeering protesters. ''We're tired of being treated like little Nazis. If a Muslim comes, I'll serve him, but the real poor these days are our people."

Standing nearby under bright Christmas lighting, a city official said he could do nothing about the controversial soup kitchen. ''Serving soup with pork is not a crime," said Deputy Mayor Noel Ayraud.

The nationalist far right is a strong fringe group in France, where its supporters feel under threat from the rest of Europe, globalization, and the country's 5-million-strong Muslim community, the largest Islamic population in Europe.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant National Front party, finished second in the first round of the 2002 presidential election, stunning the country and knocking Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, a Socialist, out of the race.

Protesters at the soup kitchen denounced the group as racists. One Muslim woman shouted at Lescure: ''Our fathers are Muslims, and they fought for France with honor and loyalty."

A local left-wing militant said the protesters did not want Lescure's soup kitchen to operate unopposed.

''This pork-based soup kitchen is pure discrimination," said Teresa Mafeis, holding back tears of anger. ''It's an in-your-face way of telling people who don't eat pork, you can stay in your cardboard boxes and starve."

''After the holidays, we're going to set up our own soup kitchen, and there will be shorba for everyone," she said, using the Arabic word for soup.

Standing at the church soup kitchen, a Catholic priest urged the two sides to calm down. ''This is not the place for politics or divisions," said the Rev. Patrick Brizore.

When he launched his soup kitchen in early December, Lescure released a statement saying he wanted to help ''our least fortunate blood brothers . . . in this hour when the black tide of demographic submersion and free-market impoverization is rising."

His ultranationalist group is named ''Soulidarieta," or ''solidarity" in the local dialect, and its motto is ''ours before the others."

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