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Chirac names Muslim prefect

PARIS, Jan 14 (AFP) – In the midst of a bitter debate over affirmative action, President Jacques Chirac of France on Wednesday appointed a business school head as one of the country’s first Muslim “prefects” – or departmental governors.

Algerian-born Aissa Dermouche, 57, who came to France at the age of 18, was named prefect of the eastern department of Jura by the Swiss border.

In a statement released by his office, Chirac said the nomination was based on “a basic republican principle – that top civil service appointments are based on the recognition of merit, whatever the origins of the persons involved.”

Chirac has been in dispute with his powerful interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy who openly supports what is known in France as “positive discrimination” – promoting Muslims in order to encourage their integration into French society.

France has around 200 prefects and 500 sub-prefects, nearly all of whom have qualified from the elite National Administration School (ENA). Created in 1800 by Napoleon, their task is to represent the state in the country’s 100 departments.

There have been rare examples of Muslim prefects in the past, but there are none today and only a handful of sub-prefects – despite the growing size of the Muslim community which at five million is around eight percent of the population.

France’s centre-right government includes two Muslims: Hamlaoui Mekachera, junior minister for veterans’ affairs, and Tokia Saifi, junior minister for durable development.

Dermouche has since 1979 been director of the Audencia school of management in the western city of Nantes. It is one of the highly selective “grandes ecoles” where France trains up its business and scientific elite.


                                Subject: France news