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Former PM calls security crackdown ‘stain of shame’ on French flag

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent proposals on security and immigration have opened up a can of worms, earning him sharp criticism from both sides of the French political divide.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent tough talk on immigration, seen by some political analysts as a strategy to boost flagging poll numbers, has now earned him sharp rebukes from across the political spectrum.

Following criticism from the Vatican and the UN, a trio of heavyweight French politicians weighed in on the matter with editorials in top French daily Le Monde. Perhaps the fiercest response came from former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who recently squared off against Sarkozy in the closely followed Clearstream trial, and is seen as a possible challenger in the 2012 presidential race (de Villepin launched his own centre-right party earlier this summer).

Villepin writes of ‘national indignity’

"There is today a stain of shame on our flag," de Villepin wrote, referring to Sarkozy’s recent comments linking immigrants to crime and proposing that foreign-born criminals be stripped of French nationality. De Villepin said the president was guilty of "a moral fault, a collective fault committed in all our names, against the republic and against France".

He also noted that Sarkozy’s recent security crackdown had been widely denounced in the foreign press, bringing “national indignity” upon France. A recent editorial in The New York Times bluntly accused Sarkozy of “fanning dangerous anti-immigrant passions for short-term political gain”. That piece specifically cited Sarkozy’s recent initiative to break up camps of Roma and send them back to their country of birth, namely Romania.
Another voice from within Sarkozy’s own party, that of former justice minister and Sarkozy protégée Rachida Dati, was also published in Le Monde on Monday. While Dati took a more measured stance than de Villepin, she also distanced herself from the French government’s recent discourse on immigration and security.
Dati, who is of North African descent, urged readers to embrace immigrants and their children as French citizens like any other. Stopping short of directly criticising the man credited with propelling her to the forefront of the French political stage, Dati wrote nevertheless "I regret that certain people have let themselves lump together immigration and crime", and called for politicians to “stop pitting French people against one another".

The third editorial in Le Monde
was written by former Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who alleged that Sarkozy’s crackdown on security obscured the fact that his administration had cut police numbers by more than 9,000 in three years.

Security focus fails to reap political gains
Sarkozy’s success as a presidential candidate in 2007 was partly attributed to his focus on issues of security, which allowed him to attract voters from France’s far right National Front party.
In the past few weeks, French police have carried out several raids targeting unauthorised Roma campsites. The raids have been widely painted as an effort by Sarkozy to revamp his image which suffered as the global economic crisis took hold in France and by what has been perceived by some as a flashy leadership style.

An Ifop poll published August 6 in right leaning newspaper Le Figaro said 79 percent of the French population were in favour of dismantling the camps.

Sarkozy himself enjoyed a small bump in poll numbers after launching the new security initiatives. But a new poll done for left-wing French daily Libération showed Sarkozy's approval rating falling back slightly to 34 percent, his lowest number since his election. The same pollsters found that a majority of French voters, 55 percent, would like to see Sarkozy defeated by a left-wing opponent in the 2012 presidential race. 

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