Le Pen takes campaign to Paris suburb

6th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

ARGENTEUIL, France, April 6, 2007 (AFP) - French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen took his campaign for the presidency to a rundown Paris suburb on Friday, telling voters of immigrant origin that they are part of the nation.

ARGENTEUIL, France, April 6, 2007 (AFP) - French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen took his campaign for the presidency to a rundown Paris suburb on Friday, telling voters of immigrant origin that they are part of the nation.

"You are the branches of the tree that is France," Le Pen said, standing on a concourse in Argenteuil, northwest of Paris, less than three weeks before the April 22 vote.

"You are full-fledged French citizens."

The 78-year-old leader of the National Front made the symbolic campaign stop in Argenteuil, where frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy is unwelcome for calling young troublemakers "rabble" during a visit in 2005 as interior minister.

Sarkozy vowed to "hose down" criminal gangs in the suburbs during a separate visit to another suburb, La Courneuve, a few months earlier after a young boy was killed by a stray bullet.

"While some want to 'hose you down' to exlude you, we want to help you get out of these suburban ghettos where French politicians have left you, only to go on and call you 'rabble'," said Le Pen whose unannounced visit drew a few curious bystanders.

"I want to thank you for allowing me to speak in this place where even our former interior minister does not dare go," he said.

Sarkozy, who stepped down as interior minister a week ago, has mostly stayed away from the suburbs that exploded in rioting in late 2005, the worst civilian unrest in France in decades.

The three weeks of rioting in October and November 2005 highlighted France's failures in integrating its immigrant population, living in poor suburbs that are plagued with high unemployment.

Sarkozy, the candidate of the governing party, on Thursday called off a visit to the middle-class Croix-Rousse district in Lyon where some 200 to 300 demonstrators chanted "racaille" (rabble) and waved banners that read "You are not welcome".

The 45-minute whirlwind stop in Argenteuil surprised the residents and only a dozen bystanders ventured closer to Le Pen to hear him speak.

One onlooker shouted "Go back home!" as he arrived for the visit to what he described as "the forgotten territories of the Republic."

Souko Coumba, an immigrant from Mauritius, said seeing Le Pen filled her with "hurt". "He doesn't like blacks. My children are not going to vote for him."

Le Pen is calling for a halt to immigration that he sees as the source of France's ills, fueling unemployment and threatening its way of life.

But he rejects accusations that he is racist and maintains that immigrants who take on French citizenship should be afforded the same rights as the so-called "native" French.

"You must contribute to the recovery of the French Republic through work," said Le Pen, echoing a position adopted by Sarkozy. Le Pen also promised that if elected, he would "not forget" the problems of the suburbs.

The far-right leader stunned the nation in 2002 when he won enough votes in the first round to stand against Jacques Chirac in the runoff.

A CSA poll published Friday showed Le Pen gaining one point at 16 percent, behind Sarkozy, Socialist candidate Segolene Royal and centrist Francois Bayrou.

Le Pen has said he is sure of making it to the May 6 second round of voting as polls are now crediting him with a bigger share of voter intentions than in 2002, when he won nearly 17 percent of the vote.

A former Foreign Legionnaire who served as an intelligence officer in Algeria and as a paratrooper in Indochina, Le Pen has been the champion of the French far right for 35 years.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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