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French crime down in 2003

Published on 14/01/2004

PARIS, Jan 14 (AFP) - Crime in France fell in 2003 for the first time in six years, with the number of reported incidents dropping to below four million, but there was a big increase in personal assaults, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said Wednesday.

Releasing figures for the centre-right government’s first full year in office, Sarkozy said they showed that “France is on the right road,” but he added, “We are still at a high level. It is just a first step. It is only the start.”

Overall crime was down by 3.38 percent – a first step towards fulfilling the government’s target of a 20 percent cut by 2006 – and the decline was discernible in 21 out of the country’s 22 regions, Sarkozy said.

However the ministry also reported a 7.3 percent increase in acts of violence, including a 7.68 percent rise in “deliberate blows and injuries.”

Theft was down 5.04 percent; financial offences by 1.65 percent; “miscellaneous” crimes including drugs offences by 3.08 percent; and acts of public delinquency – “which most concern our fellow citizens,” according to Sarkozy – by 8.96 percent.

Since taking office in May 2002, the powerful interior minister has won high opinion ratings for his tough line on law-and-order, pushing through a big increase in police spending and the recruitment of 13,500 new officers.

Speaking at a news conference broadcast live on state television, Sarkozy also reported that 232 people were arrested last year for terrorist offences: 65 suspected Islamists, 119 Corsicans and 48 Basques.

Some 35,000 foreigners were either refused admission to France or deported – Chinese, Algerians and Roumanians heading the list – and 80 percent of asylum demands were being treated within four days at Charles De Gaulle airport, he said.

Sarkozy has revived the controversial practice of organising charter-flights to return illegal immigrants to their countries of origin, and he told the news conference that as a result the airport’s once overcrowded holding area had had spare capacity for the last eight months.

The conference came at a time of growing rumours concerning Sarkozy’s presidential ambitions and his rivalry with President Jacques Chirac. The minister refused to answer questions unrelated to crime, but implied he intended to stay in his current post for the foreseeable future.

“All I know is that I have not finished the work that was set me. So far I have not got the results that were asked of me,” he said.

The opposition Socialist party (PS) accused Sarkozy of “self-satisfaction” and said his news conference was an “uncalled-for piece of stage-management.”

“Contrary to what Mr Sarkozy says crime is not in retreat everywhere … Urban violence and violence against the person are not in retreat, but getting stronger. The mafia economy thrives and criminality is getting tougher. There is no place for rejoicing,” the PS said in a statement.


                                Subject: France news