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Monday, 2 August 2010

Sarkozy accused of pandering to far-right (france)

The French opposition has accused president Nicolas Sarkozy of abandoning republican principles and pandering to the far-right after he used a major speech to make a link between immigration and crime.

Mr Sarkozy’s strongly-worded speech last Friday in Grenoble, where riots broke out last month after a suspected armed robber was killed by police during a shoot-out, was marked by tough rhetoric and proposals that have provoked fury on the left.

Speaking of a “war” against criminality, the president suggested that French citizenship should be withdrawn from anyone of foreign origin who threatened the life of a police officer.

He also called for longer prison sentences for violent crimes and a law to allow for electronic tags to be automatically applied to repeat offenders for several years after their release from jail.

In breaking a mainstream taboo by drawing a connection between crime and immigration, Mr Sarkozy was accused of appealing to far-right National Front (FN) voters and trying to distract the public from the government’s problems.

Socialist party leader Martine Aubry said Mr Sarkozy’s comments represented “one further step in rhetorical excess” and “an anti-republican drift which damages France and its values”.

She suggested the government’s toughening language was the result of “panic” over its failures on economic and social policy as well as on crime. Mr Sarkozy’s approval ratings, at 32 per cent, are near their lowest level since he became president in 2007.

“Mr Le Pen and his daughter need no longer say a thing – their double is speaking for them,” said the prominent Green Party figure Noël Mamère, referring to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the FN, and his daughter Marine.

Socialist Pierre Moscovici said Mr Sarkozy, by dividing Frenchmen into different categories, was “killing the Republican sentiment”, while the Human Rights League said the “nauseating” debate evoked the worst refrains in French history, “those of the 1930s, aimed at stirring up hatred against foreigners.”

For her part, Marine Le Pen said the president had “officially confirmed” that there was a criminal element among some groups of immigrants, “a truth the FN has been persecuted for saying for three decades”.

Just days before his speech in Grenoble, Mr Sarkozy – who made his national reputation as a tough interior minister – called for a change to France’s immigration laws to make it easier to expel members of the Roma community who were in France illegally. He has said hundreds of illegal encampments will be dismantled by police over the coming months.

Faced with uproar from the left, however, interior minister Brice Hortefeux yesterday stood firmly behind the president’s speech.

In an interview with Le Parisien , Mr Hortefeux suggested the government could go further than Mr Sarkozy suggested by withdrawing citizenship from French men of foreign origin who commit crimes other than threatening a police officer.

The minister brushed off the criticism, saying: “When we must adapt to or confront new difficulties, we don’t hesitate to do so. We’re waging a war against insecurity. We’re on the side of the victims and we have but a single enemy: the crooks who make honest people’s lives a misery.”

Irish Times