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Last Updated: Friday, 22 September 2006, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Chirac snubs Sarkozy over judges
French President Jacques Chirac. File photo
Mr Chirac said he had confidence in the judges
President Jacques Chirac has backed the French judiciary in a row with Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who said some judges had been too soft on criminals.

Mr Chirac said he strongly supported "the independence of judges" and expressed confidence in them.

The row erupted two days ago when Mr Sarkozy said judges did not "have the courage" to jail enough young offenders after riots in Paris suburbs in 2005.

He was unrepentant on Friday, saying he was merely voicing public concerns.

After meeting France's top judge, Guy Canivet, Mr Chirac issued a statement stressing his strong support for "high standards regarding the independence of judges".

The president also said law courts must be allowed to work in the "necessary peace".

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. File photo
Mr Sarkozy is one of the favourites to succeed Mr Chirac

Guy Canivet, head of the Court of Cassation, welcomed Mr Chirac's statement, saying that "this controversy should [now] stop".

However, Mr Sarkozy defended his comments on Friday.

"Who is my judge? The French people. I think that in a democracy... it is the judgement of the French people that counts," he told RTL radio.

Mr Sarkozy caused a furore on Wednesday by accusing the main court in Seine-Saint-Denis near Paris of failing to jail enough young offenders who took part in riots last year.

He said the judges were guilty of an "abdication" of their responsibilities.

The conservative minister, who heads the governing UMP party, is widely tipped to be a contender in next year's presidential election.

But Mr Chirac is seen as especially close to Mr Sarkozy's main rival, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

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