Soccer-Euro-Lviv mayor dismisses racism allegations

LVIV, June 10 Sun Jun 10, 2012 12:37pm BST

LVIV, June 10 (Reuters) - The mayor of Lviv on Sunday brushed off media allegations of racism in Ukraine and dismissed a call by a Jewish human rights group to avoid some restaurants in the city on the grounds they are anti-Semitic.

Lviv is one of four Ukrainian cities to host matches. In the run-up to the tournament, German and British media reports spoke of widespread racism in the country and mentioned supporters of local soccer team Karpaty Lviv, who have been known to brandish Nazi flags at games.

Mayor Andriy Sadovyi bristled when asked about the reports and a call from international Jewish human rights organisation the Simon Wiesenthal Center for fans to boycott two restaurants.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry: these restaurants are an attraction but there was never any anti-Semitism and there won't be," he told a news conference.

"Lviv is an absolutely tolerant city ... (with) people of different nationalities who respect each other."

Lviv had a significant Jewish population before World War Two but it was almost totally wiped out by the Nazis.

Nationalist Ukrainian groups, some of whom also took part in anti-Jewish operations, are extremely popular in the Lviv region in Western Ukraine because they also mounted a strong anti-Soviet resistance.

One of the restaurants is a replica of a hideout used by followers of nationalist leader Stepan Bandera.

The other offers diners black hats with artificial sidelocks to make them look like religious Jews. There are no prices on the menu and customers are expected to haggle, something the Wiesenthal Center said was "a notorious anti-Semitic stereotype still prevalent in Eastern Europe".

Sadovyi said he was unaware of any racist problems in Lviv and noted that some of the media organisations reporting on supposed tensions in Ukraine were British.

He said he had been shocked by the London riots last year and had had no idea there were racist tensions in the city.

"They had riots in the city and you probably heard about that. I can't even imagine such a thing in Lviv. Maybe some people don't like it, but Lviv is a city open to the world," he said. (Editing by Ed Osmond)