French Fears of Rising Crime, Joblessness Help the Far Right

One Voter Explains

In this shabby suburb of the port city of Marseilles, National Front Party candidate Bruno Mgret is well known, and well liked, by many.

He did not have to do much explaining of his positions as he campaigned recently in advance of last week's regional elections.

St. Louis is natural National Front territory - a district of small shopkeepers and artisans who are angry and mistrustful of the often-unemployed Algerian youths who live in nearby housing projects.

Unemployment in France's immigrant community is even higher than the overall jobless rate of 12.1 percent.

Jean-Marie Vidal gave Mr. Mgret an especially warm handshake on greeting the National Front leader, as he ducked in and out of shops and cafes on the campaign trail.

A retired debt collector who spent his youth in Algeria until he was evacuated with all the other French colonists at Algerian independence in 1962, Mr. Vidal says he has voted for the National Front for years.

Vidal's reasons go to the heart of the worries that the extreme right-wing parties speak to here and elsewhere in Europe.

"We've been ruled by the left and by the right for the last 30 years, and we are not getting anywhere," he grumbles. "We're still in the same situation, only the violence and the thieving is going up.

"My son's car was stolen last Sunday, and that's the fourth time that one of my family has lost a car," he says. "We know who did it - we see the gangs hanging out - but they're arrested and then they're let go, and they go on stealing."

Vidal continues, "It's not surprising - the Arabs think of only one thing, to have kids and then to live off the child allowance (a French government subsidy to poor families). They breed, the kids grow up on the streets, they don't have any education, they don't have any money, so they become little gangsters. So crime goes up."

"It's the young Arabs that bother me," Vidal says.

"They look at you in the street as if to say, 'I belong here, and if you bother me....'

"The government is completely unable to take energetic measures," he adds. "But if they don't do something soon, there is going to be a religious war around here with the Muslims."

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