French opposition politicians, media say Sarkozy is scapegoating minorities with new measures

PARIS (AP) — French opposition lawmakers and media attacked a host of new government proposals targeting Gypsies and immigrants suspected of crimes, charging Sunday that President Nicolas Sarkozy was pandering to the far-right in a bid to boost his popularity.

The interior minister defended the measures, calling them part of France's "war against insecurity."

Sarkozy said Friday that he wants to revoke the French citizenship of immigrants who endanger the life of police officers. The speech Friday in the southeastern city of Grenoble — the site of recent clashes between youth and police — was a dramatic move to the right even for the conservative leader, who has put forward a law-and-order image.

Earlier in the week, Sarkozy pushed for a change in France's immigration law to make it easier to expel Gypsies, or Roma, in the country illegally and pledged to evacuate their camps, which he called a source of trafficking, prostitution and child exploitation.

The centrist Journal du Dimanche newspaper suggested that Sarkozy was staking his claim to the anti-immigrant platform that has for decades been a mainstay of the extreme-right National Front party, in a bid to win the support of deeply conservative swaths of the population and the minority far-right.

Sarkozy's approval rating has been sliding and a financial scandal has embroiled a top minister. His new moves have angered many, from leftist politicians to French Gypsy, or Roma, leaders to immigrants' rights advocates

"This speech is a declaration of war against the (French) Republic," the Journal du Dimanche quoted Mouloud Aounit, the head of the MRAP anti-racism organization, as saying.

In a statement Sunday, the Socialist Party said Sarkozy "is trying to distract (the public's) attention by using that old standby — provocation."

The Journal du Dimanche cited Green Party head Noel Mamere as saying in reference to Sarkozy that the National Front's aging leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and his daughter and party vice president Marine Le Pen, "needn't talk anymore, their copy is speaking for them."

In an interview in Le Parisien newspaper, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux pledged to begin enforcing the measures announced last week by Sarkozy as soon as possible.

Hortefeux brushed off the criticism, saying "when we must adapt to or confront new difficulties, we don't hesitate to do so. We're waging a war against insecurity. We're on the side of the victims and we have but a sole enemy: the crooks."

He said the measures outlined by Sarkozy in his Grenoble speech would be included in bills to be presented in the lower house of Parliament in September. Other measures, such as the dismantling of Roma camps around the country, will begin as early as next week, he said.

Hortefeux also said he could envisage extending the circumstances in which naturalized French people could be stripped of their citizenship to those involving "female excision, human trafficking or serious acts of delinquency."

Sarkozy's address in Grenoble came after nights of rioting outside the southeastern city that pitted local youth against police and saw dozens of cars torched. That violence was triggered by the police killing of a resident fleeing after an armed robbery at a casino. Officials said some youths fired on police in the ensuing unrest.

Tensions have simmered in heavily immigrant projects around France since nationwide riots in 2005.

Sarkozy's remarks on Roma followed similar clashes last month in the central Loire Valley, triggered by the shooting death of a youth fleeing officers there.