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Wednesday, 23 October, 2002, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
France approves tough crime bill
Nicolas Sarkozy leaves the Elysee Palace
Sarkozy says the bill will protect "forgotten" citizens
The centre-right government in France has approved a controversial domestic security bill, introducing tough penalties against migrants, beggars and prostitutes - despite a storm of left-wing opposition.


It will guarantee the security of the French, first and foremost of the most modest, those who count on the state because they have no one else to defend them

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy
The law, presented by the Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, will bring in prison terms for nomads who occupy private land, as well as some beggars and those who exploit them.

The law also bans most forms of street prostitution, and punishes clients when the prostitutes are disabled, pregnant, or considered vulnerable in any other way.

Civil liberty groups and left-wing organisations have strongly criticised the law, saying it is tantamount to "waging war on the poor" and will turn France into an authoritarian state.

Correspondents say the law is likely to be adopted by parliament, where the government has a large majority.

Hundreds of immigrants protest 24 August 2002 in Paris
France's government has tightened immigration rules

The bill creates several new offences, including "passive soliciting", "illegal group occupation of property" and "exploitation of begging".

It also increases police powers to search vehicles, frisk individuals and hold suspects' records, including DNA samples.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's government came to power earlier this year on a tough anti-crime platform.

Since then, Mr Sarkozy has announced a series of measures to fight crime and to curb illegal immigration.

'Wrong fight'

Some 30 organisations including trades unions, left-wing parties and human rights organisations accused the government of "waging a war against the poor" on Monday.

"It is not the poor who should be fought, it is poverty!" the statement said.

"Fighting against crime involves repressing when it is necessary, but also pre-empting, educating, restoring public services everywhere, rebuilding life where it no longer exists and re-establishing links of solidarity which have disappeared.

"Because it targets without distinction beggars, the homeless, young people, travellers, prostitutes, activists who may conduct protests, the text creates a Republic where poverty is turned into a crime and where the expression of revolt becomes a crime," says the statement.

The statement's signatories call for French citizens to oppose the text by taking to the streets in a series of demonstrations and petitions throughout the country.


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22 Aug 02 | Europe
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