- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2006

PARIS — France’s Socialists were divided yesterday after presidential front-runner Segolene Royal adopted a traditionally right-wing stance, proposing to send the most troublesome and violent youths for military training.

Miss Royal, 52, daughter of a strict Catholic colonel, has caused an uproar by suggesting that unruly teenagers should receive military training even after just one offense and that failing parents should be sent back to school. France eliminated compulsory military service in 1996.

The comments have drawn outrage from some Socialists and support from others who are struggling to meet the country’s need for a solution to waves of suburban violence.

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“The army neither has the capacity nor the vocation to redress society’s ills. Let’s not ask of the military things it is not trained to do,” said Daniel Vaillant, a Socialist legislator from Paris and former interior minister.

But Malek Boutih, the Socialists’ national secretary of social affairs, said France “is confronted with the emergence of new violent phenomena, often coming from youths, and which the current setup is not dealing with.”

“When there are floods, we send in the military, even if it is not their job. So why not call on them to discipline young people?”

Gerard Collomb, the Socialist mayor of Lyons, said the proposal was better than sending problem youths to prison.

Miss Royal’s comments have embarrassed many Socialists, though, including her domestic partner, the Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande, with whom she has four children. He essentially vetoed her proposal, confirming that it would not feature among policies that the party’s presidential candidate will stand for in next year’s campaign.

“Some of Segolene’s remarks go in the right direction and will be included in the Socialist project,” he told Le Journal du Dimanche.

“However, I don’t share her point of view on the use of the military for the reinsertion of young delinquents [into society]. That is not its role or its purpose.”

Miss Royal made the remarks Wednesday on a visit to Seine-Saint-Denis, a troubled area northeast of Paris, where last November’s unrest began and where fresh rioting broke out last week.

While castigating the right for failing to prevent an explosion of violence in poor French suburbs, she broke with the traditional Socialist stance by calling for “a much firmer approach” toward young offenders.

“The left has long underestimated” the problem, she said. “Now is the time to tackle it head-on.”

She said military-style academies could be set up for young offenders 16 or older, steering troubled youths into aid work or apprenticeships and teaching them “how to behave as citizens.”

Serious troublemakers younger than 16 should be removed from schools and placed in special boarding schools under close supervision by teachers, sports workers and volunteers, she said.

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