- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

PARIS — French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin announced tightened controls on immigration yesterday as part of his government’s response to the nation’s worst civil unrest in four decades.

Authorities will better enforce requirements that immigrants seeking 10-year residency permits or French citizenship must master the French language and integrate into society, Mr. de Villepin said.

France also will implement a stricter screening process for foreign students and plans to crack down on fraudulent marriages that some immigrants use to obtain residency, he said.

Both Mr. de Villepin and Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, his rival, have announced law-and-order measures since rioting broke out this month in depressed suburbs where many immigrants live.

The two men — members of President Jacques Chirac’s conservative party — are expected to vie for the presidency in 2007. Both want to appear firm in response to the violence and France’s broader problems absorbing immigrants.

The roughly 50,000 foreign students who come to France each year to study now will be screened by French officials in their home countries, Mr. de Villepin said.

“We want to channel our efforts to receive the best students, the most motivated, those who have a high-level study project,” he said.

Marriages celebrated abroad between French people and foreigners should no longer be automatically recognized in France, Mr. de Villepin said. A measure requiring consulates to screen a couple before a foreign spouse is granted French identity papers will be brought before parliament in the first half of 2006, he said. Marriage is the main source of legal immigration to France. About 34,000 French people married foreigners from beyond the European Union last year.

The government also will propose a law next year requiring legal immigrants who want to move their families to France to wait at least two years before they can apply, an increase from the current one year.

So-called family reunions are the second-biggest source of legal immigration to France, affecting about 25,000 people in 2004.

Mr. de Villepin also said the government should better enforce a law outlawing polygamy. There are 8,000 to 15,000 polygamous families in France, according to official figures.

Some French officials cited polygamy as one reason that youths from underprivileged immigrant households joined the rioting — saying large polygamous families caused behavioral problems and difficulty integrating into French society.

Outraged opposition politicians and human rights groups warned against fanning racism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

The violence broke out Oct. 27 near Paris and spread throughout France. While promising to ease unemployment for youths and fight racial discrimination, the conservative government also promised tighter controls.

Also yesterday, France’s lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a new anti-terrorism bill that would increase the use of video surveillance and allow police more time to question terror suspects.

The bill would allow mosques, department stores and other potential targets to install surveillance cameras and would lengthen prison terms for terrorists and those supporting them.

It also would enable police to monitor people who travel to countries known to harbor terror training camps and would extend the detention period for terror suspects from four days to up to six days.

France already has some of Europe’s toughest anti-terrorism laws, enacted after a wave of terror attacks in the 1990s by Algerian Islamic militants. But officials want to fill perceived gaps exposed by the London attacks on July 7 that killed 56 persons — including four suicide bombers — and improve prevention.

The bill would be the fourth addition to France’s already substantial anti-terror arsenal since 2001.

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