Sarkozy defends immigration reform

15th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 14, 2007 (AFP) - French presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy was put on the defensive Wednesday over a plan to control immigration as challenger Francois Bayrou again shake up the campaign.

PARIS, March 14, 2007 (AFP) - French presidential frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy was put on the defensive Wednesday over a plan to control immigration as challenger Francois Bayrou again shake up the campaign.

With less than six weeks to the first round of voting, the interior minister recent proposal to create a ministry for immigration and national identity is being portrayed as a campaign ploy to appeal to far-right supporters.

"Immigration is a big subject. I want France to remain open, welcoming and generous ... but we have basic values, secularism, equality between men and women that we will not sell off," Sarkozy said in an interview with TF1 television.

"If you do not explain that to those who want to come here, to immigrants, that we have values that are non-negotiable, which are called our national identity, how do you want them to integrate?" he said.

Socialist rival Segolene Royal has accused Sarkozy of making "an intolerable connection between immigration and a threat to national identity" while late Wednesday far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen called the plan "an illusion".

Immigration has become a sensitive issue in the campaign for the election following rioting in 2005 in predominantly immigrant suburbs across the country that highlighted France's strained integration policies.

Hundreds of buildings were burned and thousands of cars torched during the three weeks of rioting in October and November 2005, the worst civil unrest in France in nearly half a century.

Centrist Francois Bayrou, dubbed "the silent tsumani" by the French press because of his rise in opinion poll rankings, used a visit to the Paris suburbs to launch a scathing attack on Sarkozy's plan, first unveiled last week.

"National identity is not a matter for a ministry," said Bayrou.

"The first thing to do is avoid pitting people against each other by saying that the nation is under threat," he said.

"A president's duty is to ensure that the French people can live together."

Bayrou's rise in the polls is sowing panic in the ranks of the Socialist Party, which fears a repeat of the humiliating defeat in 2002 when their candidate Lionel Jospin came third behind Le Pen, failing to qualify for the second round of voting against Jacques Chirac.

The leader of the small Union for French Democracy (UDF) party is at 24 percent in the polls in the first round. This is up from 12 percent in mid-January, and just one point behind Royal, according to the latest survey.

Royal's spokesman Arnaud Montebourg described Bayrou as a "political opportunist", saying he could fit the sum of his electoral programme "on the back of a postage stamp."

Bayrou is campaigning on a platform that calls for a government of national unity that would unite the right and left.

The first round of voting in the election is April 22.

Copyright AFP

SUbject: French news

0 Comments To This Article