Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

French Leaders Tilt Right ; after Weeks of Unrest, Tough Anti-Immigrant Stances Are Resounding with a Broader Section of French Voters

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

French Leaders Tilt Right ; after Weeks of Unrest, Tough Anti-Immigrant Stances Are Resounding with a Broader Section of French Voters

Article excerpt

Through the antique binoculars in the study of his mansion in this plush Parisian suburb, Jean Marie Le Pen could almost see the fires burning in less favored districts surrounding the French capital.

And the leader of France's extreme-right National Front party says the recent wave of violence by mostly immigrant-descended youths has proved his antiforeigner stance right.

"We have won several thousand new members in the past two weeks," he exults. "People are saying, 'They said you were an extremist, but you were a visionary.' "

But Mr. Le Pen, who shocked the nation three years ago by winning second place in presidential elections on an anti-immigrant platform, should watch his flanks, says Alan Duhamel, one of France's foremost political commentators.

The conservative ruling Popular Union Movement (UMP), led by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, is seeking to outmaneuver Le Pen by stealing his votes, says Mr. Duhamel. "Everybody is moving right," he argues. "The further right you go, the stronger you are."

As the conservative government has stumbled, while the opposition Socialist party appeared in disarray, the only political group to emerge from the crisis with its colors flying is the anti- immigration National Front, the provocative bugbear of the French political establishment.

"I am even more in tune with the public mood than in 2002," Le Pen claims in an interview. In the next presidential contest in 2007, "I will be an alternative," he predicts.

President Jacques Chirac made a bid to restore his authority Monday night, after having been almost invisible since the violence began, by delivering a solemn address to the nation on television and radio. He promised to counter discrimination and to broaden ethnic diversity in business, the media, and politics.

He also repeated that his government's "first priority" was to reestablish order, as incidents of arson persisted Monday night, although on a much diminished scale.

The authorities' efforts to achieve that goal seemed handicapped during the early days of the crisis by the rivalry between Mr. Sarkozy and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. The two leading conservative candidates to replace Mr. Chirac at the 2007 elections had been sniping at each other for months.

Criticized even by fellow cabinet members for the harsh language he used against residents of the troubled suburbs, Sarkozy - in charge of the police force and immigration issues - has made law and order his personal crusade as he eyes the presidency.

He drew fresh attention to himself last week by taking a page out of Le Pen's playbook, ordering the expulsion from France of any noncitizen found guilty of breaking the law during the violence.

His hard-line stance and his indefatigable style - visiting police officers and firemen in the suburbs almost every night since the trouble began - have earned him plaudits from the public. …

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