Chirac steps into row over Sarkozy's remarks

24th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 24 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac on Friday sought to arbitrate in the row sparked by his arch-rival Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy who is accused of overstepping his powers after criticising a judge for releasing a known killer.

PARIS, June 24 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac on Friday sought to arbitrate in the row sparked by his arch-rival Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy who is accused of overstepping his powers after criticising a judge for releasing a known killer.

Sarkozy, 51 year-old head of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), is under fire for saying that the judge who freed Patrick Gateau -- a convicted murderer who is the prime suspect in the killing of a woman three weeks ago -- should "pay for his mistake."

Opposition politicans accused Sarkozy -- a likely presidential candidate in 2007 -- of right-wing populism, and cabinet colleagues hastened to note that Gateau's release had been carried out in full accordance with the law.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, with whom Sarkozy is known to have tense relations, said that it was a "college of magistrates who made the decision according to the law and acting on the advice of experts ... Nothing should be allowed to undermine the independence (of justice)."

Responding to a complaint from the Higher Council of the Magistrature, Chirac issued a carefully-balanced statement, stressing the independence of the judiciary but calling for changes to the law to make it harder to release murderers.

"The constitutional principle of the separation of powers and respect for the independence of the justice system is untouchable ... I am its guarantor and be assured that I am extremely attentive," Chirac said in the statement released by his office.

"In the affair of the terrible murder of Madame Cremel .. the decision to give conditional release (to Gateau) was made in full respect of the law," he said.

But he went on: "The circumstances of this drama confirm the need to examine and approve as soon as possible changes to the law on conditional release and the treatment of serial offenders."

A 37-year-old mother, Nelly Cremel was shot dead on June 2 while jogging near her home east of Paris. It transpired that Gateau was convicted of a similar killing in 1990 before being released two years ago.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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