Man convicted of insulting Sarkozy

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A court Friday convicted a young man of insulting Nicolas Sarkozy when the president made a surprise visit to a poor Paris suburb which he once promised to "clean out with a power hose."

Mohamed Bridji was sentenced to 35 hours community service for telling Sarkozy to "go screw yourself asshole, you're in my territory here," when the French leader went Wednesday to La Corneuve.

The 21-year-old was charged with three offences: insulting behaviour to the president of the republic, insulting behaviour to police officers, and resisting arrest.

He appeared in court in Bobigny with facial bruising from injuries he received during his arrest. Three police officers involved in his arrest were each awarded 75 euros (90 dollars) in damages and a day's sick leave from work.

A television cameraman said he had been slapped by one of the officers guarding Sarkozy, who was accompanied by his interior minister on the unannounced visit, when he tried to film Bridji's arrest.

Pierre Lassus of France 3 television said he "was there by chance, working on a different subject" when he spotted Sarkozy in La Corneuve, a poor northern suburb where a majority of residents are of immigrant origin.

"When Sarkozy's security officers arrested him I tried to film it but we weren't able to. Then one of the men came up to me and slapped me, saying 'Don't film,'" Lassus said in a statement on radio station Europe 1's website.

The journalists' union SNJ-CGT at France Televisions said it was lodging a complaint.

Last month, a boy threw a plastic bottle at Sarkozy at a school in the town of Beauvais, near Paris. Sarkozy was there to discuss violence in French schools.

It was in La Courneuve that Sarkozy sparked an outcry in June 2005 when as interior minister he visited a housing estate in the wake of a fatal shooting and said he would "clean it out with a power hose."

Four months later, violent riots erupted in French suburbs, sparked by the death of two youths who were electrocuted when they climbed into a substation as they were fleeing from police in an area near Paris.

The violence was blamed partly on bad relations between authorities and locals in such suburbs, which are home to large immigrant populations and suffer from high unemployment.

An aide to Sarkozy said the president had talked on Wednesday with people in a section of the estate that is due to be demolished, but several residents told AFP they saw nothing but police and cars coming and going.

A local counsellor for the neighbourhood in the Seine-Saint-Denis region, Stephane Troussel, said in a statement that the visit was an "admission of failure" for Sarkozy's security policies.

He said Sarkozy "is obliged to come in the middle of the night, secretly, because in La Courneuve as in Seine-Saint-Denis his record on public security and action in working class areas is not great."

© 2010 AFP

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