Chirac’s TV address draws mixed reaction
PARIS, Nov 15 (AFP) - French president Jacques Chirac's long-awaited intervention in the country's riots crisis drew a mixed response Tuesday, as the left-wing opposition condemned his decision to extend by three months a nationwide state of emergency.
On Monday night Chirac gave his first televised address to the nation since the outbreak of the troubles on October 27, warning that all acts of violence would be punished by the law but conceding that many in the Arab and black communities are victims of discrimination.
His address, which combined a firm message on law and order with a pledge to tackle the underlying problems of youth unemployment and racial discrimination, was seen as a test of his authority in the crisis.
Telling inhabitants of the stricken neighbourhoods that “they are all sons and daughters of the republic,” he said it was time “to take on board the diversity of French society”.
Saying the riots were the sign of a “crisis of identity”, Chirac appealed directly to youths from the poor, high-immigration suburbs where the unrest has been concentrated, assuring them of their place in French society.
On law and order, the president vowed that all rioters would face justice and warned that parents who failed to keep their children under control should face punishment.
Chirac also promised to crack down on illegal immigration and called for the rules on family reunification — which allow an estimated 100,000 people to enter the country each year — to be strictly upheld.
But much of Chirac’s 15-minute-speech focused on tackling unemployment and discrimination.
Chief among the measures he announced was the creation of a paid training and employment scheme for 50,000 youths, offering them opportunities in the armed forces, or within environmental, health and cultural associations.
He also announced plans to improve access to the workplace for black and Arab youths, the children and grandchildren of immigrants from France’s former African colonies, who complain of high unemployment and discrimination.
Press commentators Tuesday praised Chirac for his knack of choosing the right words for the occasion, but many were dismissive of their likely impact.
Asking why it took the president so long to speak publicly on the unrest, the France-Soir newspaper said that “the delay reveals the extent of the presidential incomprehension towards profound shifts in society.
“Jacques Chirac wants to comes across as a (President Charles) de Gaulle. But the effort lacks the essential — a direction, a course and above all a leader,” it said.
The left-wing Libération noted that Chirac was originally elected in 1995 after promising to deal with France’s “social fracture,” but said there was nothing in his address to suggest he had grasped the severity of the situation.
“It was a speech that barely masks the president’s complete confusion when faced with his miserable record in office,” it said.
But the conservative Le Figaro was more positive, arguing that the centre-right government has emerged much better from the crisis than originally seemed possible.
“The unity of the governmental team contrasts markedly with the petty scheming of the Socialist Party which has never seemed so remote from the concerns of the French,” it said.
Meanwhile the national assembly prepared to vote later Tuesday on government-proposed legislation extending the country’s state of emergency for three months.
The extension — agreed in cabinet Monday — was attacked by the Socialist Party (PS) and other left-wingers on the grounds that the violence has largely abated.
The pro-Communist newspaper L’Humanité published an editorial entitled ‘Democracy in Danger’ in which it accused the government of “burying itself in a logic of arbitrary authoritarianism.”
Opposition parties said they will vote against the measure in both the lower and upper chambers, but its passage is nonetheless assured as the government enjoys solid majorities.
The state of emergency was introduced last Tuesday under a 1955 law which stipulates that after the first 12 days it can only be extended by a law voted through parliament.
Under the emergency, the state can order curfews, bans on public assembly, house-arrest warrants and house searches. However the powers have been used sparingly since they were invoked last week.
In all only some 40 localities have had curfews for unaccompanied under 16 year-olds and there have been two temporary bans on public gatherings in Paris and Lyon.
The violence erupted after the accidental deaths of two teenagers in an electricity sub-station where they hid from police in a northern Paris suburb. After several days of rioting in the Paris region, it spread to most major towns and cities.
In all more than 8,000 cars have been burned, business and public buildings wrecked and tens of policemen injured in rioting carried out mainly by black and Arab youths.
Tough-talking interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy — who has become the rioters’ number one hate figure — was expected to announce shortly the first deportations of foreigners convicted of taking part in the trouble.
Subject: French news