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Mayor suspended in Nazi jibe row

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Livingstone refused to apologize or express regret for his comments at the time.
start quoteWere you a German war criminal? Actually you are just like a concentration camp guard.end quote
-- Ken Livingstone

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Ken Livingstone
London
Racism

LONDON, England -- London Mayor Ken Livingstone has been suspended from office for four weeks after being found guilty of bringing his office into disrepute by comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

The three-man Adjudication Panel for England unanimously ruled that Livingstone had been "unnecessarily insensitive and offensive" to Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold last year.

The suspension will start March 1, the UK's Press Association reported. Livingstone's punishment could have included being barred from office.

"This is extremely disappointing," said Tony Child, a lawyer for the mayor. "We will be considering our right to appeal to the High Court."

Because Livingstone lost the case he must pay his own costs, estimated at more than £80,000 ($175,000), The Associated Press reported. The panel made no recommendation whether his salary should be suspended.

"His treatment of the journalist was unnecessarily insensitive and offensive," said David Laverick, chairman of the disciplinary panel sitting in central London.

"He persisted with a line of comment likening the journalist's job to a concentration camp guard despite being told that the journalist was Jewish and found it offensive to be asked if he was a German war criminal.

"The reasonable onlooker would regard Mr. Livingstone's reputation as being damaged as a result of the exchange," Laverick said.

"The case tribunal has also concluded that the remarks have also had the effect of damaging the reputation of his office of mayor."

"There has been a breach of the code in that Mr. Livingstone's actions have caused damage to the reputation of the office of which he holds and that is the unanimous finding of the case tribunal."

Livingstone was not at Friday's hearing, but Deputy Mayor Nicky Gavron issued a statement calling the decision "absurd."

"This decision ... strikes at the roots of democracy. Millions of Londoners elected the mayor -- and three unelected officials remove him. An elected mayor should only be removed by the law or by the electorate. Not by an unelected body.

"This issue should never have come to the standards board in the first place -- it was given a thorough airing at the time. But it has been blown out of all proportion. What Londoners care about most are issues like safer streets, more buses and a cleaner environment."

The issue erupted a year ago and threatened to overshadow London's eventually successful bid for the 2012 Olympics.

At the time, Livingstone said he would not apologize or express regret for his comments, telling reporters that after a week of reflection and reading media reports he had decided to stand his ground.

However, he told the British capital's Jewish community he did not mean to offend them when he likened Finegold to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

Livingstone said letters sent to him had run 3-1 in favor of his stand.

"I have been deeply affected by the concern of Jewish people in particular that my comments downplayed the horror and magnitude of the Holocaust," he said in February 2005.

"I wish to say to those Londoners that my words were not intended to cause such offence and that my view remains that the Holocaust against the Jews is the greatest racial crime of the 20th century.

"A week ago I said it was not my intention to apologize to the Daily Mail group journalist or his employers.

"Upon a further week of reflection in which I have read everything written in the press about this controversy and after considerable debate with many Londoners, I have decided to stand by that position. There will therefore be no apology or expression of regret to the Daily Mail group." (Full statement)

Livingstone's statement failed to placate critics at the time.

On Friday, local Jewish groups welcomed the Adjudication Panel's ruling, as did the Evening Standard.

"It should never have reached this point when a simple apology could have avoided all the pain caused to so many Jewish Londoners who have been affected by the Holocaust," said Adrian Cohen, chairman of the London Jewish Forum.

Jeremy Newmark, executive director of the Jewish Leadership Council, said, "We hope the mayor will now reflect on his use of language and the attitude he shows to the Jewish community and hope we can now move on."

"There is no question that he caused offence to many Londoners by his comments, and his stubborn refusal to say sorry aggravated the position, said Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley.

"Mr. Livingstone not only offended London's Jewish community but then he did not show the stature expected of the mayor of London by apologizing," she said.

London Assembly deputy chairman Brian Coleman said: "London deserves better. This is a humiliation for Ken Livingstone. He has let down every Londoner who has ever put their trust in him."

Livingstone made his remarks after a party at City Hall marking 20 years since former Culture Secretary Chris Smith became Britain's first openly gay member of Parliament.

When Livingstone was asked by Finegold, whether he had enjoyed the party, the mayor likened him to a "German war criminal."

When Finegold told him he was Jewish and found his remarks offensive, Livingstone said: "Well you might be, but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard -- you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?"

He also told the reporter to "work for a paper that doesn't have a record of supporting fascism" -- a reference to the Daily Mail in the 1930s.

Livingstone defended his actions, saying he had been the victim of a hate campaign lasting almost 25 years at the hands of the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail, its sister paper.

"I have spent my entire life fighting against racism -- whether against Jewish people, black people, Asians or anyone else," he said.

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