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Latest update : 2012-04-05

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's opponents suggested Wednesday he had been "stage-managing" the televised arrests of suspected Islamist extremists in order to give himself a boost in the upcoming presidential poll.

AFP - Opponents of France's President Nicolas Sarkozy accused him Wednesday of stage-managing a high-profile round-up of suspected Islamists in order to boost his re-election hopes.

Police carried out their second wave of arrests of suspected extremists in a week, just as Socialist flagbearer and opinion poll frontrunner Francois Hollande unveiled a detailed plan for his hoped-for first year in office.

Coverage of Hollande's plans was drowned out on rolling news networks by images of the arrests, conducted by teams of heavily-armed and masked police accompanied on the dawn swoop by forewarned television crews.

Hollande was to return to the front later Wednesday at his first joint camapign appearance with his former partner, Segolene Royal, the Socialist Party's defeated 2007 candidate.

The arrests came in the wake of a murderous shooting spree last month by a self-declared Al-Qaeda supporter, and were ordered by independent anti-terror magistrates, but Sarkozy's opponents accused him of seeking to exploit them.

"Police operations of this sort, under the authority of the judiciary, should not be done, it seems to me, in the form of a stage-managed advertising campaign," said centrist candidate Francois Bayrou.

"Security and staged events are different things," he said.

Hollande, who has seen his lead in April 22 first round voting intentions whittled away since last month's attacks but is still forecast to win a May 6 run-off, was more cautious, and did not accuse Sarkozy directly.

But he did suggest that the right-wing president, who has a reputation as a tough law-and-order campaigner, "could or should have done more beforehand" if the suspected groups posed a security threat in France.

And the leader of his Socialist Party, Martine Aubry declared: "I'm for being tough, not for making a spectacle, and I'm always shocked when the television crews are there. Let the judiciary do its work."

Last month, 23-year-old extremist Mohamed Merah was killed by a police sharpshooter after a two-week series of attacks which saw him kill three French paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a trainee rabbi.

Prosecutors said Merah had boasted before his death of being an Al-Qaeda militant, but that he appeared to have radicalised himself with Islamist reading in prison before making a short trip to Afghanistan.

Since the shootings, France has also cracked down on a banned domestic Islamist group, Forsane Alizza, suspected of planning kidnappings. Thirteen alleged members were charged Wednesday under anti-terror legislation.

But the fresh arrests -- concentrated in the southern port city of Marseille and the northern town of Roubaix -- targeted "lone individuals with Mohamed Merah's profile" according a police source.

In Roubaix, a dozen journalists, some of them tipped off by officials, were on hand to witness police armed with assault rifles make two arrests, of a man wearing a traditional North African robe and of a woman.

"He's done nothing. He's a son of France. Because he has a little beard, wears a djellaba and goes to the mosque to pray, they say he's violent, he's a terrorist," said the 28-year-old suspect's 64-year-old father.

"There were a dozen of them. They didn't even ring the doorbell. They just smashed in the door. Why didn't they knock?" demanded the young man's mother, insisting that her son was no radical.

Sarkozy, meanwhile, was campaigning in the French Indian Ocean territory of Reunion, a one-day stopover in a bastion of the left, before a planned return to Paris on Thursday to launch his economic programme.

Hollande stole a march on the president's long-awaited launch with 35 concrete proposals of his own, including a freeze on fuel prices, a tax of 75 percent on the revenues of the super-rich and a cut in presidential wages.

Date created : 2012-04-04


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