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Last Updated: Friday, 8 February 2008, 12:34 GMT
Sarkozy's rescue plan for suburbs
Nicolas Sarkozy (C) listens to suburbs representatives on 8 February at the Elysee Palace in Paris
Mr Sarkozy was unpopular in some suburbs after his 2005 remarks
France's President Sarkozy says the "very idea of the nation is at stake" unless poor, mainly ethnic minority suburbs wracked by riots are revived.

He spoke as he announced a three-year proposal to deploy 4,000 more police and roll out a half-billion euro aid lifeline to flashpoint neighbourhoods.

Mr Sarkozy also unveiled plans to help 100,000 people find work and declared "war without mercy" on drug dealers.

Rioting exploded in the suburbs in late 2005 and at the end of last year.

As interior minister, Mr Sarkozy was accused of exacerbating the unrest two years ago by vowing to use a power hose to cleanse the suburbs' streets of what he called "rabble".

'Respect our culture'

The government at the time promised to invest heavily in the marginalised estates but many feel that, more than two years later, little has been done.

I want to tell these kids, who are French, nobody will be judged by their skin colour, or by the address of their district
Nicolas Sarkozy

At his official residence in Paris on Friday, Mr Sarkozy unveiled proposals to regenerate the most sensitive suburbs.

He criticised the "dehumanising" architecture of some projects, promising new housing and the chance for people to buy their own property.

Mr Sarkozy also proposed transporting students to schools in different neighbourhoods to help mingle social groups.

Riot police in Toulouse in November 2005
More than 30 French towns and cities were affected by 2005's rioting

"In view of what is happening in these neighbourhoods, what is at stake is not just our idea of secularism but the future of a certain idea of the Republic," he said. "The very idea of the nation is at stake.

"I want to tell these kids, who are French, nobody will be judged by their skin colour, or by the address of their district," he added.

The conservative leader also said that all French citizens had to respect "our culture, our values, our law."

BBC Europe regional editor Mike Sanders says Mr Sarkozy has long set his sights on improving conditions in the suburbs, where youth unemployment is running at 40% in some places.

This is just a publicity stunt to boost his image
Rohit Raj, Mumbai, India

The government declared a state of national emergency in November 2005 after three weeks of rioting erupted in housing projects at more than 30 towns and cities.

The disorder highlighted the problems of joblessness and social alienation among families of immigrants from former French colonies.

Unrest also broke out three months ago after two teenagers died in a collision with a police car in Val d'Oise, near Paris.

With municipal elections coming up next month, Mr Sarkozy knows how important it is to show that his right-wing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party is offering solutions to France's huge problem of social unrest, correspondents say.

Archive footage of riots in French suburbs

Riots in Paris suburbs replayed
27 Nov 07 |  Europe
Timeline: French riots
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