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Thursday, 13 February, 2003, 23:48 GMT
French MPs pass tough anti-crime law
Poster reads:
French prostitutes have rallied outside parliament
The French parliament has passed an anti-crime act which makes it illegal to boo the national anthem and cracks down on prostitutes, beggars and loiterers.

Promoted by the rightwing government, the new law introduces a wide range of new offences and has been condemned by the opposition and civil rights groups as excessive.

Poster reads:
Civil rights campaigners have protested against the "Sarkozy law"
Its supporters see it as a major step forward in the country's fight against crime - a key issue at recent national elections.

But the opposition Socialist Party has dismissed the law as ineffective and says it will appeal to the Constitutional Council - France's legislative guarantor.

Jacques Maheasa, a representative of the Socialists, said the law would not make any contribution to fighting juvenile delinquency as the thinking behind it was "excessively repressive".

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, however, said his bill would "install a sense of security in France".

The Senate passed the bill on Thursday after its adoption by the National Assembly the previous day.

Under the new law:

  • Anyone convicted of threatening politicians or employees of the state such as fire-fighters or doctors and their families faces two years in prison and a fine of 30,000 euros.

  • Prostitutes convicted of "passive soliciting" - found attracting clients through their "dress or their attitude" - face two months in prison and a fine of 3,750 euros.

    On the other hand, foreign prostitutes who agree to inform on their pimps may receive all-important temporary residence permits in return.

  • People convicted of enlisting others to engage in organised begging face three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros. Likewise, people who "sell squats" face a year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros. "Aggressive" beggars and squatters also face fines and prison terms.

  • Youths convicted of loitering in stairwells or the entries to apartment blocks now face two months in prison.

  • It is now a criminal offence to insult the French flag or national anthem. Booing the Marseillaise now carries the risk of a fine of 7,500 euros and six months in prison.

Election issue

The new law also bolsters police powers, widening, for example, the right to conduct vehicle searches.

Fighting crime is a key plank in the rightwing government's platform, with many commentators attributing the rout of the Socialist government in 2002 to a rising sense of insecurity in France.

Only weeks before the presidential election, President Jacques Chirac stormed out of a Paris football stadium after some fans booed during the national anthem.

One Communist MP, Andre Gerin, said the new law was aimed against "minors, the poor and the weak".

See also:

23 Oct 02 | Europe
31 Aug 02 | Country profiles
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