- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy’s strong law-and-order line on the country’s urban riots is playing well with voters, while the popularity of President Jacques Chirac has plummeted, according to new public opinion polls released yesterday.

Some 68 percent of French voters surveyed said they approved of Mr. Sarkozy’s tough stand on the nightly riots that have plagued immigrant, mainly Muslim, suburban enclaves in Paris and other cities for three weeks, according to a survey in the French newspaper Le Point.

By contrast, Mr. Chirac, who was virtually invisible in the first weeks of France’s worst domestic violence in 40 years, received support from just 41 percent of voters, with 54 percent critical of his performance.

The backlash from the violence was evident as two prominent officials — the employment minister and a leader of a right-wing party in parliament — said that polygamy practiced in some immigrant families had contributed to the breakdown of social order that fueled the riots.

The polygamy theme often has been cited by far-right, anti-immigration figures as one sign of the threat now facing traditional French values.

“There is clearly a problem with the integration of immigrants and, more importantly, their children,” Bernard Accoyer, head of the conservative Union for a Popular Majority party, said in a radio interview.

Polygamy is “certainly one of the causes [of the riots], though not the only one,” he said.

A separate poll published over the weekend put Mr. Sarkozy just ahead of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, his main rival on the center-right in the 2007 presidential race, on their response to the violence.

Mr. Sarkozy received a 53 percent positive rating and Mr. de Villepin a 52 percent positive score in the Journal du Dimanche poll.

Mr. Chirac’s response was rated positive by just 29 percent of voters — only five percentage points ahead of far-right National Front party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

As the minister in charge of domestic security, Mr. Sarkozy has been a focus of the rioters’ anger, especially after he denounced them as “scum” and suggested at one point using powerful hoses to control them.

But yesterday’s poll found more than 60 percent supported Mr. Sarkozy’s order to expel any of the rioters who were not French citizens.

The polls have been closely watched to see if the scenes of car-burnings and vandalism would boost Mr. Le Pen and other figures on the anti-immigration right. The survey in Le Point found that 97 percent of conservative voters approved of Mr. Sarkozy’s tough approach.

Political analysts say Mr. Sarkozy may even undercut the appeal of fringe figures such as Mr. Le Pen by stealing their most potent issue. A major Le Pen rally planned outside the Louvre on Monday drew only a small crowd.

But Mr. Le Pen told a radio interviewer he did not fear that Mr. Sarkozy was stealing his agenda.

“It shows my ideas are getting somewhere,” he said. “It’s the Le Penization of thinking.”

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