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Thursday, 29 August, 2002, 18:07 GMT 19:07 UK
French minister tackles immigrant sit-in
Hundreds of immigrants protest 24 August 2002 in Paris
The illegal immigrants are demanding residency papers

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has held talks with a Paris bishop in an effort to resolve the occupation by illegal immigrants of a church on the outskirts of the city.

The immigrants are demanding working and residency papers.

French interior minister Nicholas Sarkozy
Sarkozy has promised to curb illegal immigration
They have been in the Roman Catholic basilica of St Denis for nearly two weeks, and their numbers are growing.

Around 2,000 people are now staying at the basilica - the burial place of French kings and a popular tourist destination.

The immigrants come from various countries in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe, but are united by the title "sans-papiers" - or "those without documents".

They are people who have been living in France without the residency documents that entitle them to certain basic rights - a situation they are desperate to change.

Balancing act

Mr Sarkozy's move is aimed at heading off a growing political crisis.

The church has been criticised in some quarters for allowing the situation to develop, but local priests have maintained it is their Christian duty to receive the immigrants.

The minister has said he will deal with each case in a humane and realistic way.

He has a fine balancing act. On the one hand, he has pledged to be tough on illegal immigration.

But he is also aware that France's previous right-wing government had a public relations disaster when it sent police to forcibly break up a similar occupation of a church six years ago.


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22 Aug 02 | Europe
12 Jul 02 | Politics
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