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Police boss criticised for gas-chamber comment

Jürg Scherrer, Biel police director and head of the Freedom Party, says the phone line was bad Keystone Archive

A Swiss politician has come under fire for describing Germany's wartime gas chambers as "a detail of history" in a radio interview.

Jürg Scherrer, director of police for the city of Biel, faces a preliminary investigation for a possible breach of Switzerland’s anti-racism laws.

On Wednesday, magistrate Patrick André Robert-Nicoud, confirmed the probe of the incident involving Scherrer, who is also president of the right-wing Swiss Freedom Party.

Scherrer made the statement while speaking live to the Swiss French-language radio station “Radio Suisse Romande”, in response to a journalist’s question about the right-wing French presidential candidate Jean Marie Le Pen.

When asked about the gas chambers, Scherrer said; “It is a detail of history, that is clear, but there were also different crimes against other peoples.”

The statement prompted denunciations from Swiss-based Jewish groups, the Mayor of Biel and several Swiss newspaper editorials.

The mass-market “Blick” newspaper condemned Scherrer’s statement with a one-word front-page headline; “Intolerable!”

A misunderstanding?

However Scherrer says he has become the victim of an on-air misunderstanding, and had been speaking in French, rather than his native German.

He said he had not understood the question, partly because of a poor-quality telephone connection.

The furore is not the first time Scherrer has become embroiled in a controversy involving anti-racism laws.

Two months ago, he was cleared of racial discrimination charges by a judge after an investigation into a report he wrote in August 2001 about a violent incident involving police recruits and foreigners.

Scherrer’s report, entitled; “Switzerland – baggage out, borders shut”, was not found to be racist because it was not directed at any particular ethnic, racial or religious group.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR