Paris rapper on mission to sway French election

2nd April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 2, 2007 (AFP) - A Paris rapper, turned self-made spokesman for the youth of France's troubled suburbs and fired up against right-wing presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy, is on a mission to sway the results of next month's election.

PARIS, April 2, 2007 (AFP) - A Paris rapper, turned self-made spokesman for the youth of France's troubled suburbs and fired up against right-wing presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy, is on a mission to sway the results of next month's election.

A 30-year-old whose family moved to France from Togo 20 years ago, Rost is one of a number of French artists who started campaigning for black and Arab youths from the suburbs to register to vote in the wake of the 2005 riots.

For a year Rost travelled the country to persuade sceptical young men and women their vote could be made to count.

His and similar initiatives appear to have borne fruit: the total number of registered voters has jumped 7.5 percent since the 2002 election, with big rises in flashpoint suburbs such as Seine Saint Denis north of Paris.

"I tried to explain that once they start to vote, politicians would have to take notice," said Rost. "Coming from someone like me, who had the same life as them and travelled all this way just to talk to them, it made them sit up and listen."

Rost and his eight brothers and sisters grew up in a single room in Belleville, a poor high-immigration district in northeastern Paris, before moving out to the northern Paris suburbs.

He says openly that music saved him from a life of petty crime and violence.Today he runs an independent rap label and produces his own records for a niche following, with hard-hitting lyrics on the problems of France's "blacks and Arabs, dumped in ghettoes" who are "too dark to be French", and describing the 2005 riots as a legitimate social revolt.

One track on his latest album, "J'accuse", is a diatribe against Sarkozy, whose tough line on law and order as interior minister made him a hate figure for suburb youths. It warns Sarkozy the suburb vote will "bring him down".

Sarkozy's image in the suburbs has become irreversibly linked to his use in 2005 of the word "racaille" -- "rabble" -- to describe criminals from those areas, which stuck in many people's minds as a racial slur.

Tensions between the authorities and black and Arab youths -- who complain of heavy-handed policing -- were highlighted again last week when an attempt to arrest a fare-dodger in a Paris railway station sparked a full-blown riot.

"When you're a member of government, there are words you should never use. Even if your comments were taken out of context, you still need to say you are sorry to the people you offended," Rost said.

Of the leading candidates, he says the centrist Francois Bayrou -- third in the polls behind Sarkozy and the Socialist Segolene Royal -- has the biggest appeal among young voters distrustful of both left and right.

The rapper has sparked controversy by telling the media he would back far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen rather than Sarkozy in the event of a second round run-off between the two -- and darkly warning of a "revolution" if either candidate is elected.

Patrick Lozes, of the CRAN council of black associations, warns that Rost's comments reflect a view that is "spreading like wildfire" among suburban youths -- for whom Sarkozy is perceived as a more immediate threat than Le Pen.

Rost himself does not have the vote in France -- although he has a French-born baby son -- and says this makes him even more determined to get involved.

"It's a way of saying that being French is not just about a piece of paper, it's about feeling French. My life is here."

From his trips to the suburbs, and via a website, www.banlieuesactives.com, Rost gathered comments and input from some 19,000 people.

Whittled down to a 10-point questionnaire and a charter of key demands, he submitted the results in person to all the main candidates except Sarkozy, with whom he failed to agree on the conditions for a meeting.

Their point-by-point replies have been published in a 32-page guide for first-time voters, along with a charter aimed at tackling the root causes of the 2005 riots, including discrimination and a lack of social mobility.

"We want to see the worlds of politics, media and state look like the French people -- with blacks, Arabs, whites, Chinese. These bodies have to reflect the French population," Rost said. "Switch on your TV, and there are no blacks or Arabs in the National Assembly."

"People from these neighbourhoods don't feel represented at all, on top of facing all kinds of discrimination. They end up cutting themselves off because there's no one they can identify with."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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