A political storm has been unleashed in France after a video was released showing African women and babies being dragged away by riot police. The officers were trying to clear a squat of illegal immigrants in the north of Paris. Despite one of the women being pregnant, authorities insist the July footage is misleading. However, it coincides with a renewed campaign by the government to get tough on both crime and immigration.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been accused of pandering to the far-right after promising to strip people of immigrant origin of their French nationality if they commit a serious crime.
“I take responsibility. French nationality should be able to be withdrawn from anybody of foreign origin who has threatened the life of a police officer or a gendarme, or any other person in public office,” he said.
Sarkozy made the comments in the city of Grenoble, the scene of recent rioting after a man was shot dead by police. Authorities insist the officers were fired upon first. But the urban unrest has brought back unwelcome memories of the violence that erupted in France five years ago, when Sarkozy was interior minister.
Despite the president’s pledge to get tough, many experts believe the hardline will not be constitutionally possible.
Constitutional law expert Guy Caracassonne said: “The first article of the Constitution says the Republic ensures that all citizens are equal before the law without ethnic discrimination. In any case, you can’t withdraw people’s French nationality because you can’t make them stateless. That is forbidden by international law.”
It is not just Sarkozy who has been grabbing the headlines. France’s immigration minister Brice Hortefeux has also been in the spotlight after ordering the dismantlement of 300 Roma camps by the end of October. He has also suggested immediate deportation to Romania and Bulgaria of Roma found guilty of a crime.
Critics have accused Sarkozy and his government of launching the barrage of hardline measures in a bid to divert attention from damaging political scandals and their flagging popularity ratings.