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Sarkozy looks to strip citizenship from those who threaten police

President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday that he would look into stripping French citizenship from anyone of foreign origin who "threatened the life of a police officer" following a spate of riots around Grenoble earlier this month.


AFP - President Nicolas Sarkozy warned on Friday that France would strip foreign-born criminals of their French nationality if they use violence against police or public officials.

Struggling in the opinion polls after his government was implicated in a financial scandal and in the wake of a spate of violent unrest, Sarkozy announced a headline-grabbing package of security measures.

Top of the list, in a week when Sarkozy had already threatened to expel foreign Roma minorities who commit crimes back to Eastern Europe, was a vow to tighten nationality rules for other non-French-born criminals.

"Nationality should be stripped from anyone of foreign origin who deliberately endangers the life of a police officer, a soldier or a gendarme or anyone else holding public authority," Sarkozy said.

Speaking in the eastern city of Grenoble, scene in recent weeks of clashes between police and armed rioters, Sarkozy said that foreign minors who commit crimes would henceforth find it harder to get citizenship on coming of age.

During fierce street battles on the weekend of July 16, rioters opened fire and torched shops and cars in Grenoble after police shot dead a 27-year-old suspected robber in a chase.

A prosecutor ruled police had fired in self-defence after the suspect opened fire on them with an automatic weapon.

In a separate clash last week, masked rioters tried to break down the door of a police station in Saint-Aignan, central France, damaged buildings and burned cars in anger after police shot dead a Gypsy during a car chase.

Sarkozy reacted to the cases of unrest by declaring a "war on crime" last week.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux vowed to tear down illegal Gypsy camps and expel Gypsies from other EU states who break the law, after Sarkozy said the minority posed security "problems."

Those raids began on Friday, when police drove out about 50 Roma from a squat in Montreuil, east of Paris, Roma groups said.

On Friday Sarkozy also promised to review the welfare payments made to non-documented immigrants in France.

He also proposed to raise minimum sentences for all aggravated offences such as attacks on public officials, including a fixed 30-year jail term for killing a police officer, and make repeat offenders wear electronic tags after release.

Tensions run high between French police and locals in deprived suburban districts with high immigrant populations who struggle to integrate and find work. Sarkozy on Friday explicitly linked immigration and crime.

"We are suffering the consequences of 50 years of insufficiently regulated immigration which has led to a failure of integration," he said.

His speech came amid renewed accusations that Sarkozy has swerved to the right to distract from his political woes.

Sarkozy's approval rating among the French is low at just 35 percent, a poll by Ipsos showed last week. He has also struggled in recent weeks with an embarrassing party funding scandal implicating his Labour Minister Eric Woerth.

About 300 people from political opposition, labour unions and rights groups staged a demonstration in Grenoble against Sarkozy's tough-talking security policies.

"We don't want Robocop policing, but police that are present every day and who stop gang bosses taking control," said Jacques Pitiot, a local high school head, who branded Sarkozy's visit "politics for show."

In a closed-door meeting with police, Sarkozy promised to pour in more officers, vehicles and equipment to secure Grenoble, said police union spokesman Daniel Chomette.

But locals complained that closer neighbourhood policing was needed, not just more numbers.

"Sarkozy's visit is a counter-productive media stunt which is perceived as a provocation," said a local elected official, Vincent Comparat. "We need a sustainable public policy with neighbourhood police."

The main policing power in France lies with the gendarmes -- military personnel -- and the civil national police, which are both under central government authority.


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