'Sarko' hatred targets man not message

11th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

MANTES LA JOLIE, France, April 11, 2007 (AFP) - The name of Nicolas Sarkozy is mud in high-immigration French suburbs hit by the riots of 2005, but behind the angry rhetoric often lies a nuanced view of the right-wing candidate's ideas on work, welfare, discrimination and integration.

MANTES LA JOLIE, France, April 11, 2007 (AFP) - The name of Nicolas Sarkozy is mud in high-immigration French suburbs hit by the riots of 2005, but behind the angry rhetoric often lies a nuanced view of the right-wing candidate's ideas on work, welfare, discrimination and integration.

In the Val Fourre housing complex of Mantes la Jolie, about 55 kilometres (35 miles) west of Paris, locals blame the former interior minister for his tough views on policing and immigration, and warn of a new outbreak of violence if he is elected France's new president on May 6.

But many are also receptive to his call for a rehabilitation of the work ethic, and for affirmative action to end the injustices they suffer in housing and the workplace.

"If one could remove the persona from the equation, people here are relatively inclined to the right," said Samir Ait Atman, 31, a journalist at community radio station "Droit de Cite."

Built in the 1960s to accommodate immigrant workers at a nearby Renault car factory, Val Fourre houses 25,000 people, the majority of north African, Senegalese and Turkish origin. The estate has a reputation as one of the toughest in France, and saw its share of the November 2005 rioting.

With unemployment at 40 percent, young people loaf in gangs on the street, where they say they are the target of random police harassment. Many regard Sarkozy with undisguised loathing, after he famously described delinquents in the poor suburbs as "racaille" or "rabble."

"Here it is "TSS" -- Tout Sauf Sarkozy (Anyone But Sarkozy)," according to Omar, a 22-year-old of Senegalese parents, who said he is hesitating between the Socialist Segolene Royal and the centrist Francois Bayrou.

"For me his idea for selective immigration is like a modern version of slavery. He wants to select which people come to France from African countries -- but that is like the old slavers going to the market to pick the best," he said.

Nonetheless Omar said he knows several people who plan to vote for the right-winger -- "to show they are French" -- and he professed himself unshocked by Sarkozy's use of the word "racaille." "Here in the banlieues (suburbs) we call our mothers 'racaille'," he joked.

Khalid Belhadaoui, a 29-year-old bank worker, was angry at constant police humiliations since Sarkozy replaced a neighbourhood force with out-of-town recruits, and rejected as insulting his call for a "ministry of immigration and national identity" -- widely seen as a bid for the far-right vote.

"Why do I get the feeling that for people like me, integration is a never-ending process? Why is it that when my white neighbour is stopped by the police it takes one minute, and with me it takes half an hour? We are sick of having to constantly justify ourselves," he said.

But others in the estate made clear that -- even if they may not vote for Sarkozy -- they share many of his ideas.

"What is the root of France's problems today? The answer is work," said Arif Bilgic, a 29-year-old greengrocer, echoing one of Sarkozy's rallying-cries. "If he has said some stupid things, it is because he has to appeal to the far-right for the election -- but that is just campaigning."

"When I was in London I had three jobs at once -- two jobs waiting tables and one as a delivery man. It was that easy to find work," said Tariq, a 30-year-old social worker. "Me, I'm a liberal and I always have been. I am for the 60-hour week."

According to Bernard Kossoko, Radio Droit de Cite's manager: "We all expect too much from the state. We need a system where people can't keep turning down job offers and claiming benefit. They've got to be put under an obligation -- and I don't care if it is a right-wing thing to say."

Kossoko, who recently started a women's programme at the station, agreed that integration is a major issue. "Because many families that come from Africa retain the values of their country of origin. Girls end up reproducing the old lifestyle, and they are completely lost in our society."

And he said Sarkozy's call for positive discrimination to help minorities out of the ghetto was "supported by everybody."

"It is a great shame. A lot of ideas that could really have helped the 'banlieues' are heading for a dead end because of all the idiotic things he did at the interior ministry," said Kossoko.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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