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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Francophones sue Ishihara over anti-French comments


Staff writer

French-speaking professors and translators Monday sued the Tokyo Metropolitan Government over disparaging remarks made by Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, claiming his derogatory comment about their language was "neglectful and appalling."

The 74 plaintiffs, including foreign nationals residing in France and Canada, are each demanding compensation of 50,000 yen and a public apology from the metro government.

In a meeting with support organizations of Tokyo Metropolitan University in October 2004, Ishihara said, "French is disqualified as an international language because it is a language that cannot count numbers," according to the suit.

Malike Berkane, 47, a plaintiff who runs a French-language school in Tokyo, condemned the prejudiced comment at a news conference Monday after the suit was filed. "Gov. Ishihara has been negligent and his remark was deplorable," he said.

Thirty-five French speaking plaintiffs filed a similar lawsuit in 2005 against Ishihara, demanding an apology and 500,000 yen each in compensation over his comments. The case is still pending before a district court, but 16 of the plaintiffs are taking part in the new suit as well.

Miyuki Sakai, chief lawyer of the plaintiffs, said the latest suit was filed against the metro government because Ishihara suddenly changed his stand last October during the litigation and began claiming his comments were made as the governor of Tokyo instead of as an individual.

"As a resident of Tokyo, I am truly ashamed of the governor's defiant attitude toward the case," said plaintiff Osamu Niikura, who teaches law at Aoyama Gakuin University.

The outspoken governor, who is seeking a third term in next month's gubernatorial election, has been hit with protests and lawsuits over his reproachful comments. In April 2000, he was criticized for calling foreigners in Japan "sangokujin," a derogatory term used against people from China, Taiwan and the Korean Peninsula.

Ishihara was then slapped with a lawsuit by a group of women seeking damages over his 2001 comment calling women "babaa," a deprecating expression meaning "old hag." The case was rejected by the Tokyo High Court in 2005, after the district court did likewise.



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