PARIS – Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Tuesday that France faces a "moment of truth" in fighting racial discrimination that has inflamed tempers in suburbs with large immigrant populations. Speaking to a special session of the National Assembly called to address the wave of unrest, Villepin said France faced a choice between "division or coming together."
"We must be lucid: The Republic is at a moment of truth," Villepin said. "What is being questioned is the effectiveness of our integration model."
Villepin apologized for a recent incident in which a police tear-gas bomb landed near a mosque, adding to ill-feeling in poor suburban housing projects where many Muslims live.
He acknowledged that jobseekers with foreign-sounding names were not always given equal consideration with applicants with traditional French-sounding names when they presented their resumes.
The minister said a return to calm was the "absolute priority" after the violence and arson across the country, but urged lawmakers to read the incidents as "a warning and an appeal."
"The struggle against all discriminations must become a priority for our national community," he said. "They are a reality today for all the inhabitants of troubled neighborhoods when they look for housing, a job or even when they want access to leisure activities."
Villepin said discrimination is a "daily and repeated infringement of our national ideals."
"These discriminations have a considerable cost for our community," he said. "They deprive our country of talent, and the determination to succeed like others. They feed — notably in the young — frustration and the feeling of not belonging to the national community."