France's Socialist Party expels politician after uproar over comments about black players

France's Socialist Party on Saturday expelled politician Georges Freche after he was criticized for saying there were too many black players on the national soccer team, party officials said.

In November, Freche, of the southern Languedoc-Roussillon region, was quoted by Midi Libre newspaper as saying he was ashamed that up to nine of 11 starters on the French team were black.

"It would be normal if there were three or four, that would be a reflection of society," Freche was quoted as saying. "But if there are so many, it's because whites are no good. I'm ashamed for this country."

President Jacques Chirac issued a stern condemnation, and several prominent Socialists, including the party's presidential candidate, Segolene Royal, demanded he quit the party.

Following the uproar over the comments, Freche announced last week he was withdrawing from the party for three or four months to avoid hurting Royal's chances in upcoming presidential elections.

But the move didn't go far enough.

At a meeting Saturday in Paris, members of the Socialists' national conflict commission voted unanimously to expel Freche, whose comments they judged "incompatible with the values of equality and the respect for human rights," the party said in a statement.

Royal, speaking last week on Canal Plus television, Royal called Freche's remarks "unacceptable and humiliating" and said she hoped he would be expelled. Asked Saturday about the expulsion, Royal declined to comment, saying only that she had "taken note" of the decision.

The anti-discrimination group SOS Racisme hailed Freche's expulsion, saying it "reaffirmed the Socialist Party's attachment to (French) republican values."

In a statement, the organization said it "hopes from now on no party will tolerate in its midst individuals who express populist, racist, homophobic or sexist remarks."

In a separate incident last year, the Socialist party suspended Freche following his incendiary remarks about "harkis" - the Algerians who backed colonial master France against their homeland during the North African country's long, bloody war for independence, the AP says.

At a February, 2006 meeting, the outspoken politician lashed out at the head of a "harki" group in the southeastern city of Montpellier: "You all are sub-men! You all have no honor," Freche shouted.

He later apologized, saying he was referring to a single person, not an entire community. The "harkis" were branded traitors in Algeria and have suffered from discrimination in France, their adopted home since the end of the war, in 1962.

A Montpellier court last week convicted Freche over the remarks, fining him EUR 15,000 (US$19,000) and ordering several newspapers to publish the verdict. The politician's lawyer said he would appeal the court's decision.

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