Segolene jumps on tough-on-crime bandwagon

2nd June 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 1, 2006 (AFP) - France's Ségolène Royal, the Socialist frontrunner to succeed President Jacques Chirac, has broken ranks with her party by calling for a crackdown on youth crime that is set to rival the centre-right on its home turf.

PARIS, June 1, 2006 (AFP) - France's Ségolène Royal, the Socialist frontrunner to succeed President Jacques Chirac, has broken ranks with her party by calling for a crackdown on youth crime that is set to rival the centre-right on its home turf.

In a speech delivered Wednesday in the north Paris suburbs — where a new outbreak of street violence has raised fears of a repeat of last year's riots — Royal launched a stinging attack on the government's record.

She charged that tough anti-crime policies led by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy — the top centre-right contender in next year's election — had failed to prevent an explosion of violence in poor French suburbs.

However in a break with her fellow Socialists — who demonise Sarkozy as a hardliner — the mother of four called for "a much firmer approach" towards young offenders.

"The left has long underestimated" the problem, she said. "Now is the time to tackle it head-on."

Military-style academies could be set up for young offenders aged 16 or over, she suggested, steering troubled youths into aid work or apprenticeships and teaching them "how to behave as citizens".

Herself the daughter of an army officer, Royal said Chirac's decision to scrap military service in France in 1996 had been a mistake.

For younger offenders, parents would be enrolled on compulsory courses at the first sign of trouble — with social benefits scrapped for those who failed to bring their children back into line, she said.

Serious troublemakers under the age of 16 should be removed from schools and placed in special boarding schools under close supervision by teachers, sports workers and volunteers, she said.

Law and order was a central theme in the 2002 presidential election, which saw the Socialist candidate beaten in the first round by the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Following last year's riots security concerns are set once again to dominate the campaign for 2007.

Both left and right saw Royal's speech as a foray onto the centre-right's turf.

"Tougher than Sarkozy," wrote the right-wing Le Figaro newspaper, while her comments provoked an immediate uproar within the Socialist Party (PS).

"This is truly alarming. It marks a swing to the right that is unprecedented within the Socialist Party," said PS senator Jean-Luc Melenchon.

"There is no competition between her and Sarkozy, they are offering the same thing — this is pure Blairism, it is very worrying."

Socialist deputy Marc Dolez called her proposals "unacceptable" and urged the party's secretary-general Francois Hollande — who is the father of Royal's children — to "set the record straight".

Yves Durand, another PS lawmaker, said he was "stunned" — "I fear that by trying to move with the times, Ségolène Royal is losing sight of our values."

Meanwhile Sarkozy said Royal's "support" would "help to build a consensus around the security policies I am conducting".

"To have realised that France needs authority and firmness is a first step — for which I congratulate her," he said.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Royal was "moving in directions where we are already taking action".

Royal — who far eclipses her left-wing rivals in the popularity ratings — is the only Socialist who polls suggest could beat Sarkozy in a presidential run-off.

For her supporters, she brings the promise of renewal as a fresh face on the French political scene — but she has stirred passions in the party notably by speaking of her admiration for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The PS will choose its candidate for the 2007 race in a ballot of its 160,000 members in November.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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