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Nicolas Sarkozy to foreign-born French: Target police and lose your citizenship

Ruling party officials say new measures are needed to counter increasing security threats, but critics say France's President Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to change the subject from a series of scandals that have rocked his presidency.

By Staff writer / August 2, 2010

French President Nicolas Sarkozy delivers a speech in Grenoble, French Alps, July 30. Sarkozy came to Grenoble last week to install the new prefect after confrontations between youths and policemen, which came after a local resident suspected in the armed robbery of a casino was killed while fleeing police.

Laurent Cipriani/AP Photo

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Paris

A sweeping and blunt proposal by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to strip French citizenship from persons of foreign origin who endanger police is bringing storms of protest by minority groups and the opposition who accuse the president of a new low in playing the race and ethnic card to appeal to the French far right.

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Early last week, Mr. Sarkozy announced a crackdown on Gypsies who come to France from Romania and Bulgaria, and to begin investigating French Gypsy camps.

But by Friday, the president’s new law and order program went further by an order of magnitude: In Grenoble, site of a recent riot after police clashes with Arab youths, Sarkozy stated citizens from immigrant backgrounds who endanger the lives of police officers can be stripped of their passports – a striking pronouncement in a country where it is illegal for the state to label people based on race, religion, or ethnicity.

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"It runs counter to the spirit of the French Republic,” argued Robert Badinter, a respected former French law minister and architect of the abolishing of the death penalty here. “At the core of the problem is the feeling of some of these French people, whom Mr. Sarkozy calls of foreign origin, that they remain aliens in the nation despite their identity card.”

Is Sarkozy changing the subject?

Ruling party officials, including Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, say new measures are needed due to increasing security threats and public worry in France. But critics charge Sarkozy with trying to change the political subject here from a series of scandals that have made him politically vulnerable to crackdowns on Gypsies who exist on the margins of society, and by threats against minority citizens whose presence is already a source of fear in the French mainstream.

In the past year, Sarkozy sought to ban the face-covering burqas worn by a tiny minority of Muslim women – itself seen as a way for the ruling party to raise the controversial issue of Islam in France.

After the Grenoble speech, French commentators sent salvos of disagreement on both the proposed law and its evident play for far right voters.

Are the proposals even legal?

The citizenship-stripping proposals may in fact be legally impossible – putting it mainly in the category of incendiary political rhetoric that breaks long-honored French egalitarian taboos.

“Nicolas Sarkozy has pushed the classic center-right dialogue to the most extreme point on security,” says Phillipe Waucampt, a columnist for the centrist Républicain Lorrain in eastern France. “If that fails, he will one day decide whether to create an alliance with the National Front [the far-right party of Jean-Marie Le Pen].”

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