Sarkozy defends immigration law, defies protests

18th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

BAMAKO, May 18, 2006 (AFP) - French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy on Thursday defended his new immigration bill on a visit to Mali aimed at heading off strong criticism over its tough measures.

BAMAKO, May 18, 2006 (AFP) - French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy on Thursday defended his new immigration bill on a visit to Mali aimed at heading off strong criticism over its tough measures.

Despite demonstrations in Mali before his arrival late Wednesday, and last weekend in France, Sarkozy insisted the law posed "no risk of controversy."

Hundreds of people demonstrated Thursday in Mali against his visit. In the capital Bamako, about 100 demonstrators staged a sit-in outside the  French embassy and waved placards accusing Sarkozy of racism and xenophobia  and calling for "respectful cooperation".
"He is not in occupied territory, we refuse to be considered as animals,"
said youth leader Ousmane Keita.

Passed Wednesday by France's lower house of parliament, the draft law promotes "selected immigration", sets tougher conditions for immigrants coming to France by favouring skilled workers, and limits opportunities for migrants to reunite with their families.

It also eliminates automatic citizenship for long-term foreign residents.

"It's a reasonable text," Sarkozy said. "There are no alternative suggestions," he added, claiming three quarters of French people supported it.

There are tens of thousands of Malian immigrants in France, and Sarkozy's visit to Mali, after which he travels on to Benin, is designed to discuss the immigration question

Ahead of his arrival, hundreds of people joined political leaders in a protest march in the Malian capital Bamako organised by the Association of Expelled Malians.

Police blocked marchers from reaching the French embassy at the end of the protest, which was attended by members of the African Solidarity for Democracy and Independence (SADI).

SADI, which counts six members of parliament among its members, has said Sarkozy's visit was a "provocation" and described the law as "fundamentally racist".

Earlier in the week, 21 Malian lawmakers called for the cancellation of Sarkozy's trip, which they characterized as a "pure provocation" due to the timing of the parliamentary vote.

Malian opponents of Sarkozy's law planned further action Thursday, including a sit-in in front of a hotel where he was expected to speak on French-African relations.

Sarkozy said the protests were having little impact on his visit.

"Otherwise, I do not think (Malian) President Amadou Toumani Toure would receive me for lunch" on Thursday, he said.

He told journalists that he planned to defuse the situation during his visit, after already being branded a "racist" by the Malian daily Info-Matin ahead of his visit.

There are some 45,000 legal immigrants from Mali in France, and around the same number of illegal Malian immigrants, according to interior ministry figures.

These immigrants send home some EUR 180 million a year, the ministry said. French development aid to Mali totals EUR 210 million.

Sarkozy arrived in Bamako late Wednesday after the bill was passed earlier in the day by the lower house. It will be debated in June in the upper house of parliament before becoming law.

A poll published in France's Le Figaro newspaper said 76 percent of right-wing French voters and 71 percent of voters on the left supported the text.

However between 11,200 people, according to police, and 35,000, according to organisers, demonstrated against the bill on Saturday in Paris.

On his third trip to sub-Saharan Africa since 2002, Sarkozy is due to hold discussions on immigration, development projects and France's Africa-related policies with leaders in Mali and Benin.

He was due to head to Benin later Thursday for a visit lasting until Friday.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article