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Last Updated: Friday, 19 May 2006, 22:09 GMT 23:09 UK
France-Africa ties 'must change'
Protester in Benin
The ambition of many young African men is to work in Europe
The French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, has told leaders in the West African state of Benin that Africa and France must remould their relationship.

Mr Sarkozy faced angry protests in the main city of Cotonou, where he outlined plans for a new immigration policy.

In a speech, Mr Sarkozy said France and Africa must change the "old ways" and move past the colonial era.

His visit comes after French MPs backed Mr Sarkozy's immigration bill, designed to keep out unskilled foreigners.

Hundreds of people shouted: "Racist, out of our country" and "Go home," as riot police stood guard at the interior ministry in Cotonou.

He faced similar protests on the first leg of his African tour, in Mali.

'Dregs of the past'

In a speech to Beninois politicians, Mr Sarkozy called for a more transparent relationship between France and Africa instead of the "unofficial networks" which used to exist.

"We have to build a new relationship, cleaner, free of complexes, balanced, clear of the dregs of the past and of obsolescent ideas that remain on both sides of the Mediterranean," Mr Sarkozy said.

FRENCH IMMIGRATION BILL
Only the qualified get "skills and talents" residency permit
Foreigners only allowed in to work, not live off benefits
Foreign spouses to wait longer for residence cards
Migrants must agree to learn French
Migrants must sign 'contract' respecting French way of life
Scraps law on workers getting citizenship after 10 years
"It is up to us to rid the relationship between Africa and France of the fantasies and the myths that pollute it. France does not have the intentions or the influence it is credited with."

In Mali, Mr Sarkozy denied that the immigration bill was racist, as critics claim.

However, that has not calmed the feelings of young residents of poor African countries, who see emigration to Europe as their only way of earning a living.

"France should not close the door to us. The law on immigration is slavery under a new form and we do not want Sarkozy here," said Beninois student Bonaventure Bleme, according to Reuters news agency.

Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure said he was confused about the bill and at least 20 Malian MPs urged Mr Sarkozy to call off his "undesirable" visit.

'Pillaging'

The bill, which must also be passed by the French Senate, offers residence permits to highly qualified newcomers from outside the European Union.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy wants to deport more illegal immigrants
It requires immigrants from outside the EU to sign a contract agreeing to learn French and to respect the principles of the French Republic, and makes it more difficult for them to bring their families over to join them.

Mr Sarkozy says he wants to reduce illegal immigration, and has been behind the deportation of many Malians.

"Our policy is simple: More rights for Malians whose situation is in order and fewer Malians in an illegal situation. No nation with a state of law can fault us for that policy," he said after meeting Malian Prime Minister Ousmane Issoufi Maiga.

The French bill has also attracted controversy in France. Socialist MP Serge Blisko said it amounted to "the organised pillaging of brains", and the French anti-racism organisation SOS Racisme has called it "dangerous".

Mr Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, has praised the contribution of skilled migrants to France but insists that those who entered illegally must be sent back.




SEE ALSO:
France deports African 'rioter'
03 Feb 06 |  Europe
Gao's deadly migrant trade
07 Apr 04 |  Africa


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