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Racist incidents down in France but assaults rise

media French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has promised a tough campaign against racism Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

Racist incidents in France - ranging from threats to physical violence - decreased last year but the number of attacks on Jews and Muslims rose, an official report based on police records shows.

Last year 950 racist incidents were reported to the police, down 16 percent on 2016, which itself saw a fall from the 2,000 reported in 2015 in the aftermath of jihadist attacks in January and November.

But recorded violent attacks targeting Jews rose from 77 to 97 and against Muslims from 67 to 72.

"The overall decline should not conceal the rise in violent acts," the Interior Minister said in a statement.

For the first time since 2008, attacks on religious sites decreased, down 7.5 percent on the previous year.

Christian sites were the most heavily targeted but saw a 7.5 percent fall to 878 incidents, while attacks on Muslim sites fell 15 percent to 72.

Attacks on Jewish sites rose 22 percent but remained at a relatively low level of 28.

The previous government's Sentinelle anti-terror campaign placed soldiers outside synagogues and other Jewish community sites.

Official anti-racist campaign

As well as physical attacks, the total figure announced includes abuse, graffiti and threatening messages and they, too, saw a decline.

The government claimed the improvement was the result of the first-ever triennial campaign against racism and anti-Semitism, which will be followed by a "broad" and "ambitious" second phase in a few weeks, according to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

On Wednesday he said there had been "particularly strong" revival of anti-Semitic acts since the beginning of the year and predicted a long battle ahead.

Anti-Semitic attack

The figures were published two days after an attack by two teenagers on an eight-year-old Jewish boy, wearing a kippa, in the Paris region.

Police are treating the incident as an anti-Semitic assault and politicians of all parties were quick to condemn it.

President Emmanuel Macron declared that "the whole republic stands by French people of the Jewish religion" and Philippe told the National Assembly that a "new, violent and brutal form of anti-Semitism is being expressed more and more openly" in the country.

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