Chirac calms row between judiciary, Sarkozy

22nd September 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 22, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac sought Friday to calm an uproar sparked by his would-be successor, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who accused judges of being soft on criminals.

PARIS, Sept 22, 2006 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac sought Friday to calm an uproar sparked by his would-be successor, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who accused judges of being soft on criminals.

After receiving France's top judge, Guy Canivet, who heads the country's final court of appeal, Chirac issued a statement stressing his strong support for "high standards regarding the independence of judges" and expressing confidence in them.

That was an admonition to Sarkozy, whose comments Wednesday accusing the main court in Seine-Saint-Denis — a crime flashpoint north of Paris where last year's urban riots erupted — of failing to jail enough young offenders caused a furore.

The judges, Sarkozy said, did not "have the courage" to put criminals behind bars and were guilty of an "abdication" of their responsibilities.

The conservative interior minister — who has built his bid to replace Chirac in presidential elections next year on a hard-line law-and-order platform — has been unrepentant, saying he was merely voicing public sentiment.

"Who is my judge? The French people," he told RTL radio Friday. "I think that in a democracy ... it is the judgement of the French people that counts."

The left-wing magistrates' union noted Chirac's scolding of Sarkozy, but said it feared it "would not be enough to stop the interior minister offending again".

Sarkozy's criticism, which Canivet and other senior French judges saw as an attack on the constitutional independence of the judiciary, came amid signs that the poor, high-immigrant suburbs involved in the November 2005 riots were still simmering with violence.

On Wednesday, two riot police officers in an unmarked car were badly beaten in the southern Paris suburb of Corbeil-Essonnes by a gang of 20 youths who lured them into an ambush in a housing project.

Police unions said such areas were descending into "a kind of guerrilla warfare", while some officials and the left-wing opposition said it showed up a failure of Sarkozy's repressive policies.

The state-appointed governor of the northern Seine-Saint-Denis department, Jean-François Cordet, told Sarkozy in a June letter that tensions in his region were worsening, with rising crime, a court system that was failing to punish, and the active incitement of Islamic radicals.

There is no love lost between Chirac and Sarkozy, who created another storm with his words in the days before the riots began when he called suburban delinquents "rabble" and promised to clear them out with a power-hose.

But in recent months the two men had papered over their differences in public.

Chirac's siding with the judiciary in the row appeared to show his continued animosity towards Sarkozy, who nonetheless looks unchallenged in his push to get the nomination of the ruling UMP party — which he also heads — to contest the April 2007 presidential elections.

In his statement, 73-year-old Chirac, who is widely expected to retire next year, said he supported the "necessary tranquility" judges needed to carry out their duties and addressed to them "a message of confidence in their commitment" to their jobs.

Canivet, who had spoken 45 minutes with Chirac, left saying he was satisfied with the president's affirmation of the judiciary and hoping that "the dispute (would now) stop".

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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