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France launches 100-million-euro program to combat hate crimes

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has announced an action plan to tackle an 'unbearable' hike in hate crimes, three months after the Islamist attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. But will it work?

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced the 100-million-euro ($108 million) program Friday in the Parisian suburb of Creteil, which witnessed an attack on a Jewish man and his girlfriend in December 2014.

"Racism, anti-Semitism, hatred of Muslims and foreigners, and homophobia are increasing in our country in an unbearable manner," Valls said during the speech, adding, "To be racist, anti-Semitic [and] xenophobic is to break the law."

The three-year program aims to increase penalties for hate crimes and those deemed racist in nature. It will also finance a nationwide communications campaign as well as local initiatives to counter anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic violence across the country.

Violence on the rise

Attacks on Muslims have increased substantially following the Charlie Hebdo attacks. On Thursday, the French watchdog National Observatory against Islamophobia said anti-Muslim attacks increased six-fold between January and April 2015 with 222 reported cases compared to 37 during the same period last year.

Gedenken an die Terroranschläge in Paris 11.01.2015

January's attacks helped highlight an already growing trend in France

Meanwhile, the Kantor Center, a research institute at Tel Aviv University in Israel, released a report on anti-Semitism in 2014, with France scoring the worst

among European countries

: with 851 recorded incidences in 2014, the number of anti-Semitic attacks logged in France doubled year-on-year.

"French Jews must no longer be scared to be Jewish" and "French Muslims must no longer be scared to be Muslim," the prime minister said during his speech. Valls also added that the program will set up a national unit to tackle the dissemination of hate speech on the Internet as well as fund educational trips to memorial sites for French students.

'All from different origins'

Following his speech, Valls and Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem visited a school in Creteil, home to a large Jewish community and one of France's largest mosques. He told students and teachers at the Lycee Leon Blum that he was born in Spain and Vallaud-Belkacem in Morocco

"You're all from different origins, and that's a strength," Valls said during his visit. "It's through education and the understanding of others that you can counter clichés and negative images."

ls/msh (AFP, dpa)

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