Over 11,000 Protest in Paris Against Immigration Bill

More than 11,000 people marched through Paris on Saturday to protest a bill that would stiffen rules for immigrants in France and give authorities power to handpick who gets in.

Protesters shouted "Solidarity with immigrants!" Many wore stickers showing an immigrant being tossed into a trash can. Demonstrators marched to a square near the Interior Ministry and the headquarters of the governing conservative party.

Police said 11,200 people turned out to protest Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy's bill, while organizers put the figure at 35,000. It was France's largest march in support of immigrants in years.

The bill would make it more difficult for poor immigrants with little education and few skills to start a new life in France.

Sarkozy, a presidential hopeful in next year's elections, says France should take a more pro-active approach to immigration, an argument that gained resonance after riots ripped through heavily immigrant French suburbs last fall and forced France to rethink its model of integration.

The plan would set up a kind of quota system — without explicitly saying so — and create a three-year "competence and talent" residence card for foreigners whose skills would "constitute assets for the development and influence of France." Lawmakers began debating the plan early this month, and a first reading is planned next week.

Many Christian and Muslim leaders — whose institutions often provide support services for immigrants — have joined human rights groups, labor leaders and the opposition left in expressing concerns about the bill.

Several prominent demonstrators from France's left included Communist Party leader Marie-George Buffet and Socialist Senator Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Under Sarkozy's plan, "there won't be one immigrant fewer, but thousands more illegal aliens," Melenchon said.

Gassama Mady, president of a group of illegal immigrants, called the law "inhuman."

"We will continue to fight until this law is repealed," Mady said.