PARIS — A cabinet minister and close friend of President Nicolas Sarkozy faced fresh calls for his resignation Friday after a Paris court found him guilty of making racist comments and ordered him to pay compensation.
Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux was given a €750, or $900, fine and asked to pay an anti-racism group €2,000 in damages for what the judge called “private insults of a racial nature.”
Mr. Hortefeux will appeal “immediately,” according to his lawyer, Nicolas Benoît.
The verdict comes nine months after Mr. Hortefeux was recorded on camera at an event in southwestern France on Sept. 5 making what to many sounded like anti-Arab remarks.
The video, which was first posted on the Web site of Le Monde, shows the minister posing for a photo with a young party member of Arab origin when a woman in the crowd can be heard saying:
“Amine is a Catholic. He eats pork and drinks beer.”
“Ah, but that doesn’t work at all, then he does not fit the prototype at all,” Mr. Hortefeux is heard replying to general laughter.
Another female voice shouts: “He’s our little Arab.”
Mr. Hortefeux answers: “All the better. There always has to be one. When there’s one, it’s O.K. It’s when there are a lot of them that there are problems.”
At the time of the comment, opposition parties were quick to call for Mr. Hortefeux’s resignation, and on Friday the Socialist Party was quick repeat the demand.
“The exemplariness claimed by the president of the republic has to apply to all,” said Benoît Hamon, a spokesman for the Socialists. “If Nicolas Sarkozy keeps him, it would mean behaving more like a clan leader than a president.”
Mouloud Aounit, secretary general of the anti-racism group Mrap, which had brought the case against the minister, also demanded that he step down.
Mr. Sarkozy’s office declined to comment, but an official close to the president said Mr. Hortefeux had his “full confidence.”
The verdict was a blow for an administration that has tried hard to portray itself as friendly to minorities with a number of cabinet ministers of North African origin but that has struggled to cast off the hard-line image Mr. Sarkozy retains in many immigrant suburbs. Violent clashes between the police and youths of immigrant background are a sporadic reminder of three weeks of rioting in these neighborhoods five years ago.
Mr. Hortefeux, who was minister of immigration before he was promoted to the powerful Interior Ministry last year, has been a vocal advocate of clamping down on illegal immigration and deporting those without papers already in the country.
He has called the uproar over his comments last September “a vain and ridiculous attempt to create a polemic,” saying he had not been referring to Arabs but to people from the Auvergne, in central France. Amine Benalia-Brouch, the youngster in question, said he had not been offended by the comments.
But according to the court ruling, Mr. Hortefeux’s comment “is incontestably offensive, if not contemptuous, for the people concerned” and the minister’s body language shows he “did not want to be heard by others beyond this circle of friends.”