Sarkozy calls off campaign visit after hostile demo

6th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 6, 2007 (AFP) - Right-wing French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday called off a campaign stop in the eastern city of Lyon where his planned visit had drawn a crowd of hostile demonstrators.

PARIS, April 6, 2007 (AFP) - Right-wing French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday called off a campaign stop in the eastern city of Lyon where his planned visit had drawn a crowd of hostile demonstrators.

Some 200 to 300 people carrying banners reading "You are not welcome" had massed in the city's Croix-Rousse neighbourhood, a trendy cosmopolitan district where Sarkozy was scheduled to visit a chocolate maker's shop.

Many were chanting the word "racaille" (rabble), used by Sarkozy in 2005 to describe young delinquents from the suburbs but interpreted by many as a racial slur towards the wider immigrant population.

Speaking later in the Lyon suburb of Villeurbanne, Sarkozy said he had missed the stop due to a flight delay, and suggested the protest was staged by left-wing activists.

"My plane was late. I am going to go there later -- I wouldn't want to disappoint the extreme-left," he said.

One of the protestors, Gerard, an employee of the local Socialist town hall, told reporters: "This is the home of the Canuts (textile workers who staged a series of 19th-century revolts). We don't want a bosses' representative here."

Another said she was angry at televised comments in which Sarkozy suggested France needed to explain to Muslim immigrants not to slaughter sheep in their bathtubs: "We haven't been slaughtering sheep for a long time," she said.

Karim, a Muslim university student, took issue with Sarkozy's support for affirmative action for ethnic minorities.

"Positive discrimination amounts to saying that an Arab can't succeed without help from the state," he charged.

Sarkozy, the candidate of the governing UMP party, is leading in the polls ahead of the Socialist Segolene Royal for the presidential election, taking place in two rounds on April 22 and May 6.

During his time as interior minister, he championed a tough line on law and order and immigration that is highly popular among his supporters, but has made him a hate-figure on the left and among youths in France's troubled suburbs.

Sarkozy later Thursday held a rally in Lyon which was also attended by President Jacques Chirac's wife Bernadette. Her presence, coming weeks after Chirac officially backed Sarkozy's election bid, was seen as an important endorsement.

Chirac's wife was "loved and respected by the French people," Sarkozy said, adding that he was "very pleased" she could attend the meeting.

"She has always been very friendly with me even when there were political tensions," he said. "Never has there been a personal rift."

Herself a regional councillor for Sarkozy's ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the 73-year-old Bernadette Chirac is a popular and respected figure among party members.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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