- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2007

CLICHY-SOUS-BOIS, France — Many blacks and Muslims in the troubled neighborhoods ringing French cities voted for the first time, saying they were motivated by one desire: to stop law-and-order, tough-on-immigrants Nicolas Sarkozy from becoming president.

Mr. Sarkozy, the front-runner after Sunday’s first round of voting, is deeply unpopular in housing projects populated largely by second- and third-generation immigrants, many of them Muslims from former colonies in North Africa who live mired in poverty and joblessness.

Voters in several poor districts favored Segolene Royal, the Socialist campaigning to be France’s first female president. She was second in the overall vote, finishing ahead of 10 other candidates and earning a spot in a May 6 runoff election against the conservative Mr. Sarkozy.

Mr. Sarkozy’s campaign has been haunted by his use of the word “scum” to describe young delinquents days before widespread riots erupted in 2005 in the bleak suburbs on the outskirts of the country’s cities. Some youths took Mr. Sarkozy’s comment as a declaration of war.

“If Sarkozy wins, there will certainly be riots here in Clichy and all over France,” said Mohammed Saidi, a first-time voter who was born in Morocco. The 43-year-old electrician and father of four voted in Clichy-sous-Bois, where the riots broke out and spread nationwide.

Another first-time voter, 20-year-old Fatma Celik, said that if Mr. Sarkozy wins the runoff, “people are going to go crazy here.”

Mr. Sarkozy has reached out to minorities by promoting a policy akin to affirmative action. But many in France’s housing projects — and beyond — despise the tough police tactics that he instituted as interior minister, his uncompromising language and his sometimes roughly executed drive to send illegal aliens home.

The favorite in poor neighborhoods was Miss Royal, who casts herself as a maternal figure in sharp contrast to Mr. Sarkozy’s law-enforcer image.

Final results nationwide gave Mr. Sarkozy 31 percent of the votes to Miss Royal’s 25 percent, but she won more than 40 percent in towns such as Clichy-sous-Bois.

Voter registration was up throughout France, rising 3.3 million to a total of 44.5 million voters, and few areas experienced as dramatic a rise as the poor suburbs.

In Seine-Saint-Denis, the rough region where Clichy-sous-Bois is located, registration rose 8.5 percent — more than twice the average nationwide increase of 4.2 percent, the Interior Ministry said.

After the riots, suburban neighborhoods were targeted by an extensive voter registration campaign as a way to reach out to young minorities who feel France has never accepted them.

The 2002 election had served as a wake-up call for voters. That year, anti-immigration far-rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen qualified for the runoff against incumbent President Jacques Chirac. Voters from across the political spectrum united behind the conservative Mr. Chirac to give him a crushing victory.

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