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France protesters rally against Sarkozy security measures

Over 100,000 people in 130 cities across France protested Saturday against the security policies of President Nicolas Sarkozy [official website, in French]. The protesters called the expulsion of illegal Roma [JURIST report] and a recent bid to ban the burqa [JURIST report], xenophobic [Le Monde report, in French] and said they make minority groups scapegoats for France's crime problems. The League of Human Rights [advocacy website, in French] released a statement [text, in French] about the protests, saying "Tens of thousands of demonstrators have expressed their refusal of a politics of fear, xenophobia and divisions they cause. The protesters wanted to give a halt to these dangerous tendencies of democracy, for civil peace and the international reputation of France." In a contrasting official statement [text, in French] the head of France's Ministry of Interior [official website, in French] Brice Hortefeux [official profile, in French] called the protests a disappointment for organizers because of low turnout. He added:

Such an eclectic event, which gathered a mosaic of traditional parties, and also small groups of leftists and anarchists, does not reflect policy. Under the pretext of wanting to defend the rights of man, it, in fact, embraces laxity. [...] Under the authority of the President of the Republic, I will continue to work aggressively to roll back all forms of crime and defending the rights of victims, without stigmatizing any community whatsoever.
In August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination [official website] unveiled a review [press release; JURIST report] of France's compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) [text]. The report raised questions about draft legislation that would strip naturalized citizens of citizenship for committing certain crimes and a recent decision to dismantle 300 unauthorized Roma encampments. The UN report was revealed a week after riots by members of the Roma community sparked by the shooting of a young man, resulting in the deployment of 300 troops [DW report]. In the same month, the French National Assembly [official website, in French] approved a bill that making it illegal to wear the Islamic burqa or other full face veils in public. Under the legislation, which still needs approval by the French Senate to become law, women who wear the veil would be required by police to show their face, and, if they refuse, they could be forced to attend citizenship classes or be charged a USD $185 fine. The legislation would also criminalize forcing a woman to cover her face, with a penalty of one year in prison and a fine of USD $18,555.

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