Sarkozy accused of aping the far-right
By Honor Mahony
Opposition politicians have accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy of using the language of the far-right in a bid to regain some popularity as he fights low poll ratings.
The accusations followed a strongly-worded speech on Friday (30 July) in which Mr Sarkozy made an overt - and until now mainstream taboo - link between immigration and crime.
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He said French nationality should be stripped from anyone of foreign origin who threatened the life of a police officer and suggested that a minor who committed offences should not automatically acquire French nationality upon adulthood.
Mr Sarkozy also called for longer prison sentences for violent crimes and suggested electronic tags be slapped on repeat offenders after their release from jail.
The president made the speech in the south eastern city of Grenoble, the scene of recent riots following the killing of a suspected armed robber by police in a shoot-out.
Mr Sarkozy's speech on Friday was followed by two more hard-line suggestions by politicians from his centre-right UMP. In an interview with Le Parisien, interior minister Brice Hortefeux went further than the president by suggesting the confiscation of French nationality be extended to all cases of "serious crime."
Meanwhile, Eric Ciotti, in charge of security questions for the UMP, in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche, suggested that a future law should involve parents in probation plans for juvenile offenders and make parents liable for imprisonment for any violations.
The rhetoric has been seen by the opposition and some newspaper commentators as an attempt to lure back the part of the population that has been seduced by the policies of the far-right National Front. Mr Sarkozy trod similar ground as a hard-talking interior minister before being elected in 2007.
The presidential elections are 21 months away, in 2012, and Mr Sarkozy's ratings are at 32 percent, a near all-time low.
Reacting to Mr Sarkozy's speech, Martine Aubry, leader of the opposition Socialists, said the comments represented "one further step in rhetorical excess" and "an anti-republican drift that damages France and its values."
"Mr Le Pen and his daughter need no longer say a thing; their double is speaking for them," said Noël Mamere of the Green Party, referring to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the Nation Front, and his daughter Marine.
Ms Le Pen herself said the president's comments "confirm" the criminal character of some immigration, a "truth" for which her party has been "persecuted" for three decades. She urged him to go further.
Le Monde, the centre-left daily, published an article tracing some of Mr Sarkozy's initiatives directly to earlier or similar proposals by the National Front.
The discussion unleashed by Mr Sarkozy's comments follows similarly controversial proposals earlier last week to dismantle Roma camps and to change immigration laws to make it easier to expel Roma who are allegedly in France illegally.