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Illness comes to the aid of Nazi collaborator

Paris, Sept. 18 (Reuters): French Nazi collaborator Maurice Papon, 92, left jail today after an appeals court ruled he was too ill to serve the rest of his sentence for helping deport Jews to wartime concentration camps.

Papon was sentenced in 1998 to 10 years in prison for complicity in crimes against humanity because of his role in 1942-1944 in organising the transport of 1,560 Jews to a Paris transit camp on the way to Auschwitz.

Walking steadily, he emerged from a small door at Parisí Sante prison to jeers from a waiting crowd, got into a car and was driven away. Stunned by the courtís unexpected decision, Jewish and anti-racist groups protested loudly against the early release. Papon served only three years of his sentence, having entered prison in 1999.

Lawyer Jean-Marc Varaut said before his release that Papon himself was surprised by the courtís ruling. ďHe didnít believe it. He didnít think the magistrates had that much independence,Ē he told journalists.

The appeals court ignored the public prosecutorís request to keep the former Vichy official in prison because releasing him could cause public unrest. It said the medical evidence his lawyers had presented had shown he was too ill to stay in jail.

But groups representing Jewish victims of Nazism were outraged.

ďIíve just heard this sad news and Iím stunned,Ē Michel Slitinsky, spokesman for the civil parties at Paponís original trial, told Reuters.

Justice minister Dominique Perben reminded journalists that the government had opposed the release.

Papon, the first senior official of the collaborationist Vichy regime to be convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity, had a successful political career after the war and was Franceís budget minister when his past caught up with him in 1981.

In May of that year, the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine published documents showing he authorised the arrest and deportation of Jews and was praised by German occupation authorities as a reliable and able collaborator.

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