Thursday, June 01, 2006

Paris Riots: Socialist contender takes hard stance

France: Against the "scum" shocking her fellow socialists and amusing Sarkozy.

PARIS -- Military training for unruly French teenagers. Boot camp for their parents. A heavy hand and zero tolerance. The latest rhetoric from the far right? No, these ideas are coming from the top Socialist contender for next year's presidential race. Segolene Royal's hard-line response to renewed violence in troubled districts this week sounds suspiciously similar to that of her chief rival on the right, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. The battle is on between the two dynamic figures, and Royal's latest salvo attests that security will loom large in the campaign. It caught Sarkozy off guard _ but also worried many of Royal's fellow leftists, uneasy about her soaring popularity and her departures from the Socialist Party line. The party has yet to choose its candidate for 2007, and many are jockeying for the spot. "We need a return to the heavy hand," Royal, 52, said Wednesday night on a visit to Bondy, a suburb east of Paris hit by rioting that swept impoverished French neighborhoods for weeks last fall. Critics say the government has failed to solve the problems the riots exposed: racism against immigrants, soaring unemployment among unskilled youth, and deep-seated alienation in the depressed housing projects that ring French cities. Clashes broke out again on Paris' outskirts this week, as youths hurled gasoline bombs at a city hall and pelted police with paving stones. Police responded with rubber bullets, and the next night deployed in force. The violence appeared to have subsided by Wednesday night, but tensions remain palpable. Royal, who became the darling of the polls largely without staking out any policy positions, called the government's handling of the suburbs' woes since the riots "an absolute failure." She laid out her platform on crime and security Wednesday night _ and it was a far cry from the Socialists' standard emphasis on tolerance and greater funding for education. "For a long time the left has minimized" security problems, she said. What's needed, she added, is something more "radical." Among her ideas: _Ordering youths over 16 who cause trouble to perform military or community service or learn a trade. That would help them "get to know the vast world and their good fortune to live in France," she said, lamenting President Jacques Chirac's abolition of mandatory military service. _Sending parents of school-age children to "parents' schools" as soon as their kids start committing "acts of incivility." _Dispatching "troublemakers who spoil the life of junior high schools" to new reform schools at the first sign of disobedience. She also urged linking family welfare payments to children's behavior. A measure allowing for such cutoffs exists but is widely ignored. Royal has already infringed on the terrain of the right by campaigning for traditional family values and suggesting flexibility in the 35-hour work week, one of the Socialists' key projects before they lost power in 2002.

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