Sarkozy jumps into row over Muslim airport staff

23rd October 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 21, 2006 (AFP) - France's Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy jumped into a row over the suspension of access badges for mostly Muslim airport workers Saturday, saying it was unacceptable that people with "radical" ties work in sensitive jobs.

PARIS, Oct 21, 2006 (AFP) - France's Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy jumped into a row over the suspension of access badges for mostly Muslim airport workers Saturday, saying it was unacceptable that people with "radical" ties work in sensitive jobs.

"Regarding those with access to runways, it is our duty to ensure they don't have links near or far to radical organizations," Sarkozy said, referring to the recent removal of security clearances for several dozen mostly Muslim airport workers at the Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris.

The matter has sparked outcry on the part of some airport employees, who have denounced an atmosphere of "paranoia" at the airport.

A trade union, CFDT, has filed a discrimination complaint on behalf of Muslim workers, whose badges to work in sensitive zones at the airport were suspended.

Half a dozen luggage handlers have also appealed to an administrative tribunal against the decision to suspend their work badges, which gives airport personnel access to customs zones and sensitive areas near runways.

According to the French anti-discrimination group MRAP, roughly a hundred workers have lost their badges since August.

"In the fight against terrorism, Mr. Sarkozy's cause is just, but his methods are not. One does not fight terrorism by spurning people's rights," said two lawyers, respectively representing the CFDT trade union and the baggage handlers in their complaints.

But during a public gathering in Paris Saturday, the Interior Minister said he could "not accept that people with radical practices work at the airport."

If they consider themselves victims of discrimination "they can air their rights before the courts," said Sarkozy, who is seen as the hot favourite to represent the right in next year's presidential elections.

In April, a book claiming the airport had been infiltrated by Islamic militants stirred furor. Anti-terrorist officials cast doubts on claims made in 'The Mosques of Roissy', by right-wing French politician Philippe de Villiers.

An airport union, Sud Aérien, accused Villiers — another presidential hopeful in next year's elections — of playing on public fears of radical Islam to win votes.

But four months later, Sarkozy announced that unofficial prayer sites at the airport had been closed.

"In the six years I've worked at Roissy, I've never had a problem," said one Franco-Tunisian airport worker, Mohamed Seddiki, who said he received a letter from the local police precinct claiming he posed a "significant danger to airport security."

Seddiki's badge was withdrawn in early October. "In June they closed out prayer hall, and now they tell me I'm a danger to the airport," Seddiki said. "All of this is paranoia caused by de Villiers' book."

Like Seddiki, another Muslim worker also lost his badge earlier this month, after being questioned by police.

"I was asked if I prayed and if I'd made the pilgrimage to Mecca," said the worker, who refused to disclose his name. "Yes, I went to Mecca with my wife, and so what?"

Earlier, the airport's deputy police chief said that being a practising Muslim "was absolutely not a criterion" for suspending the access badges.

Rather, he referred to conclusions drawn by France's Anti-terrorist Coordination Unit (UCLAT) as the basis for the sanctions.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

 


 

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