North Africans 'part of French identity'

20th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 20, 2007 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Tuesday that France's North African minority was an asset to the country, as debate swirled over remarks on national identity by right-wing presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy.

PARIS, March 20, 2007 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Tuesday that France's North African minority was an asset to the country, as debate swirled over remarks on national identity by right-wing presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy.

"North Africa is fully part of French identity: it is an asset in our project for society, thanks namely to the millions of French people of North African descent, who form a natural connection between the two shores," Douste-Blazy said in a speech on French ties with the region.

"Successive waves of migration are what shaped our French identity," said, the minister -- a senior member of Sarkozy's campaign team -- when asked about Sarkozy's call for a ministry of immigration and national identity.

Sarkozy's proposal -- unveiled earlier this month -- was criticised as a ploy to appeal to the nationalist vote, but the right-winger has insisted a taboo-free debate on such issues is the only way to stem the rise of the French far-right.

National identity "is not a nasty word, it's just the way things are," Douste-Blazy said. "What is a country if not, at a given moment, an identity?" he asked, referring to the contribution of Spanish and Portuguese as well as North African immigrants to France.

"It is integration that is the important word," he said.

France does not allow the gathering of statistics on ethnic groups, but the number of North African immigrants and their French-born descendants is estimated at between three and six million.

According to a report by the INED demographic institute, some 14 million French people -- a quarter of the population -- have at least one immigrant parent or grandparent.

Sarkozy, the candidate of the governing right-wing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), leads the race for the April-May election, ahead of Socialist Segolene Royal and centrist Francois Bayrou.

Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen -- campaigning on an anti-immigrant, anti-Europe platform -- is fourth in the polls on around 12-14 percent of first round votes, well ahead of the eight smaller candidates.

The election takes place in two rounds on April 22 and May 6.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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