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LONDON (Reuters) - The Football Association charged Nicolas Anelka on Tuesday for making a "quenelle" salute after scoring for West Bromwich Albion against West Ham United in the Premier League last month.
The gesture is widely regarded as being anti-Semitic and the FA charged the former France international under Rule E3 for "making an abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper gesture".
"It is further alleged that this is an aggravated breach, as defined in FA Rule E3 in that it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief," the FA said in a statement.
Anelka, 34, who has denied he used it in any derogatory way,
has until 1800 GMT on Thursday to respond to the charge which carries a minimum five-game ban.
West Brom said the player had received a 34-page document explaining the allegations against him.
"Under FA rules Anelka remains available for first-team selection until the FA's disciplinary process has reached its conclusion. Following this the club will conclude its own internal enquiry," Albion said in a statement.
Whether the FA find him guilty or not, the gesture has already had repercussions.
Zoopla, a property market search engine co-owned by Jewish businessman Alex Chesterman, announced on Monday they would not be renewing their three million pounds ($4.93 million) Albion shirt sponsorship at the end of the season because of Anelka's actions.
"Zoopla has been reviewing its position over the past few weeks in light of the actions of striker Nicolas Anelka during the match against West Ham over the Christmas period and has decided to focus its attention on other marketing activities after this season," the company said.
Dr Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, expressed satisfaction that Anelka had been charged.
"We are happy that the FA has correctly concluded that Anelka's quenelle salute falls under the guidelines of what constitutes a racist and offensive gesture," Kantor said in a statement.
"We hope that the FA will give Anelka the strongest punishment possible and in line with similar punishments for other football players who made racist and offensive gestures or comments.
"The FA must send a very strong message that offenses made against the Jewish community should be treated in the same away as offenses against any other minority."
The striker celebrated the first of his two goals against West Ham in a 3-3 draw at Upton Park with the "quenelle", made famous by French comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala as an anti-establishment salute.
The comedian is a friend of Anelka's.
It initially went unnoticed in England but the game was being shown live in his homeland and the gesture was not lost on French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron who raised her concerns.
"Anelka's gesture is a shocking provocation, disgusting," she said on Twitter. "There's no place for anti-Semitism on the football field."
Anti-racism and Jewish groups demanded that Anelka be charged and also criticized the FA over the length of time it took them to respond to the gesture.
The former Real Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Paris St Germain striker has tried to play down the incident.
"This gesture was a special dedication to my friend Dieudonne," Anelka said on Twitter.
He was subsequently told by West Brom not to use the gesture again and he agreed, although he has not apologized for his actions.
Anelka has played in all three of West Brom's league matches since the incident but not scored. Monday night's home game with Everton finished 1-1.
($1 = 0.6090 British pounds)
Editing by Patrick Johnston and Justin Palmer