February 24, 2006

London mayor suspended for “Nazi” jibe

By Peter Graff

LONDON (Reuters) - London's outspoken Mayor Ken Livingstone
was suspended for a month on Friday for comparing a Jewish
reporter to a concentration camp guard, a verdict the mayor
said struck "at the heart of democracy."

A three-person panel which hears complaints against local
authorities ruled in a case brought by a Jewish group that
Livingstone, 60, had brought his office into disrepute.

It ordered him suspended for four weeks from March 1.

"Three members of a body that no one has ever elected
should not be allowed to overturn the votes of millions of
Londoners," Livingstone said in a statement.

"This decision strikes at the heart of democracy. Elected
politicians should only be able to be removed by the voters or
for breaking the law."

He added he was discussing with lawyers whether to appeal.

The suspension came as a surprise: the mayor, one of
Britain's most colorful and popular politicians, could have
faced up to a five year ban on holding public office, but
British media were expecting at most a public rebuke.

Livingstone's deputy Nicky Gavron said she would run the
city in his absence, and city services would not be

"There's a very well oiled machine," she told Sky News. "If
there's any incidents in London, people know what to do."

Livingstone sparked the rumpus when reporter Oliver
Finegold cornered him outside a party for a gay politician in
February 2005.

When the reporter identified himself as working for the
Evening Standard, a paper loathed by the mayor, Livingstone
asked: "What did you do? Were you a German war criminal?"

Finegold said he was Jewish and found the remarks
offensive. Livingstone replied that by pestering him the
reporter was acting "like a concentration camp guard -- you are
just doing it because you are paid to."


The paper's editor Veronica Wadley said it was time
Livingstone apologized.

"There is no question that he caused offence to many
Londoners by his comments, and his stubborn refusal to say
sorry aggravated the position," she said in a statement.

"We believe ... that it is only right that the adjudication
panel has now decided that Mr Livingstone acted in a manner
that was ill-fitting for the mayor of this great city."

Brian Coleman, London assembly member from the opposition
Conservative Party said "London deserves better" and that
Livingstone should resign.

Livingstone, known as Red Ken in the 1980s as a left-wing
maverick in local government, won election to the newly created
post of mayor in 2000 after leaving Prime Minister Tony Blair's
Labor Party and defeating Blair's candidate.

He later returned to the party, but has frequently clashed
with Blair, leading marches against the war in Iraq.

He was widely praised last year for guiding a successful
bid for the 2012 Olympics and for his handling of suicide bomb
attacks on city transport in which 52 commuters died.

But he has long had a prickly relationship with the Evening
Standard, the capital's biggest local paper, where he was once
an occasional freelance restaurant critic.

He has refused to apologize for the Nazi jibe, arguing that
the Standard's owners, the Daily Mail group, had a history of
anti-Semitism and that Finegold's questioning was offensive.

He said he had been rude to reporters for 25 years, others
had never complained, and he had no intention of changing his