Minister resigns to back centrist Bayrou

6th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 6, 2007 (AFP) - Azouz Begag, France's minister for equal opportunities, stood down from the government on Thursday to join the campaign of the centrist Francois Bayrou for this month's presidential election.

PARIS, April 6, 2007 (AFP) - Azouz Begag, France's minister for equal opportunities, stood down from the government on Thursday to join the campaign of the centrist Francois Bayrou for this month's presidential election.

A statement from the prime minister's office said Begag -- who gave Bayrou his official backing last month -- left "to resume his full freedom of speech".

Begag, 50, is known to have fallen out with Nicolas Sarkozy, the election frontrunner and candidate for the ruling centre-right, because of his policies on immigration.

The minister, who is of Algerian parents, said Sarkozy's recent call for a "ministry of immigration and national identity" was an "indecent" bid to fish for votes among "the lost sheep of the far-right".

Begag is one of two government members, along with Research Minister Francois Goulard, to have jumped ship to back Bayrou.

The leader of the small Union for French Democracy (UDF) surged in the polls last month to challenge the two frontrunners, Sarkozy and the Socialist Royal, although his support appears since to have levelled off.

Royal's Socialist party issued a statement saying that Begag's resignation was "final proof of the divorce between Nicolas Sarkozy and French people of immigrant origin".

It charged that Sarkozy, "through verbal aggression towards French people of immigrant background, and sustained attacks on the French integration model, has shown he has a worrying problem with our country's diversity."

Sarkozy's use of the word "rabble" in 2005 to describe young delinquents from the suburbs was interpreted by many as a racial slur on France's wider immigrant population, and helped make him a hate figure on the left.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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