- Title: FRANCE: French presidential candidates take campaigns into riot-hit suburbs
- Date: 4th April 2007
- Summary: (W3) PARIS SUBURB, FRANCE (NOVEMBER 2005) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF RIOTING IN PARISIAN SUBURBS VARIOUS OF RIOTERS CLASHING WITH POLICE FIRES IN THE STREET
- Embargoed: 19th April 2007 13:00
- Location: France
- Country: France
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA3HDNSP0UR8H8BS9MAADEI6INF
- Story Text: The poor suburbs of French cities, which hit the front pages with burning cars and rioting in 2005, are back in the headlines as a key battleground for votes in the French presidential election. The main candidates have made them a priority on the campaign trail. For many, notions of France conjure up fine wines, high fashion and sophisticated cuisine, but not far from the famous sights of Paris are riot-stricken suburbs, poor neighbourhoods that house thousands of unemployed young immigrants.
After the 2005 explosion of violence and resentment in neighbourhoods such as this across France, many people living there still grapple with poverty, discrimination and social conflict.
The presidential candidates lining up for France's elections this month are focusing on these areas to try to drum up votes in what is shaping up to be a tight race.
In Saint-Denis, a poor neighbourhood just north of Paris, some residents say they feel forgotten by politicians and the situation has not improved since the protests and suburban violence.
"We won't forget 2005. it's a big stain on the political history of France," said Saint-Denis resident Jamila Khaldi.
In recognition of the significant growth in the electorate in these areas, which account for between 7 and 9 percent of new voters, centrist candidate Francois Bayrou visited the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis where he spoke about immigration, employment and accommodation.
"I am proud that all the people living here have suddenly decided to trust rather than fight, Although they know their life is not easy and that I don't have a magic wand," he told a crowd.
Socialist candidate SÃ©golÃ¨ne Royal also campaigned with pledges to help those in socially deprived areas. She went to the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois to sign the social pact devised by "AC le Feu", an association created after the deaths of two youths, Zyed Benna and Bouna TraorÃ©, at an electrical sub-station in 2005. The deaths of the two teenagers while they were being chased by police sparked the wave of rioting in cities throughout France.
Based on the results of a debate among 20,000 people in more than 100 French cities, the pact includes measures on topics such as employment, wages, public services, accommodation and justice.
"I would like to say it again here, you are not a problem. On the contrary, you are a part of the solution to our problems," Royal told youngsters.
Accompanied by the teenagers' families, Royal visited the memorial to the two teenagers, and received a warm welcome from residents there.
"It would be good to have a woman as president," a resident who gave his name as Bruno told Reuters. "It would change things a bit. I think she has a mother's view. She should be able to understand that young people don't express their claims to undermine her political line but simply because they need someone to pay attention to them."
The centre-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy also added the "banlieue" to his campaign itinerary.
The former interior minister's pledge to clean up crime-ridden estates with a power hose and rid them of the rioters provoked animosity. He called off a visit to Argenteuil, the suburb near Paris where in 2005 he had called the protesters "riff-raff". Sarkozy instead visited the suburbs of the southern city of Perpignan.
In Mailloles, a poor district of the city with a high immigrant population, a young man of North African origin accused Sarkozy of taking a contradictory line about Islam.
"Your position is not very clear," he told the former minister at a residents' meeting. "On the one hand, it's true, you brought Islam out of the cellars. You are considered to a certain extent to be the constructor of French Islam. But on the other hand, you don't hesitate to fall into stereotypes which can sometimes lead to confusion."
Sarkozy referred to his spokeswoman Rachida Dati, the daughter of immigrants, as a successful example of integration.
"Why do you think I chose Rachida apart from her qualities, since she's been working with me for five years now? I wanted her because I wanted to send a message to all the young people who can recognise themselves when they look at her," Sarkozy said.
The only candidate not to visit the French suburbs so far is the National Front's Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose position on immigration is highly controversial.
Asked during an internet interview whether he was afraid to go into rough areas Le Pen replied he did not see any real meaning in such a visit.
"I could go to the suburbs but I don't know if that would amount to anything serious. It's a gimmick," Le Pen replied. "One goes there and shakes a hundred peoples hands, it does not have any precise meaning. I did not reject the idea of going there. No, I am not especially afraid of going to the suburbs and I don't see why the suburbs would be afraid of me."
Le Pen stunned France by grabbing second place behind President Jacques Chirac in the first round of the 2002 presidential election, pushing Socialist Lionel Jospin out of the race.
As voters prepare for the first round on April 22, opinion polls put Sarkozy ahead of Royal and Bayrou.
Sarkozy is the only mainstream candidate to call for positive discrimination in favour of ethnic job-seekers, but his notorious "riff-raff" barb could yet come back to haunt him.
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