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French Right Says Government Soft on Immigrants

August 26, 1996

PARIS (AP) _ Far-right politicians criticized the French government today for being too soft on illegal African immigrants _ even after a court began deportation proceedings and riot police broke down the doors of the church where immigrants had barricaded themselves.

The National Front lashed out at Prime Minister Alain Juppe for what it called ``complete buffoonery″ in deciding to grant residency to some of the 220 undocumented immigrants involved in the two-month occupation of St. Bernard Church in northern Paris.

``Does France still have the right to say if it welcomes foreigners?″ Front spokesman Bruno Gollnisch was quoted by RTL radio as asking.

The National Front, whose leader Jean-Marie Le Pen won 15 percent of the 1995 presidential vote with promises to expel thousands of immigrants, had called for quick, tough action against the St. Bernard group.

After nearly two months of government threats and hesitation, police on Friday fought their way through a crowd of protesters and hauled the immigrants out of the church.

Four immigrants were deported the next morning. But the government said up to two-thirds of the group may receive at least temporary residence papers, and on Saturday it released 51 women and 68 children.

A Paris court said today that three of the 20 immigrants whose cases it has reviewed so far would be granted papers while the others would still be considered illegal.

Gollnisch criticized the partial release, charging that the government had set a precedent that would allow immigrants to avoid being quickly deported.

``They must be administratively detained and retained until we have organized their expulsion,″ he said.

The National Front and some members of the government’s ruling conservative majority have blamed illegal immigration for France’s crippling 12.5 percent unemployment.

While immigrants rights activists have tried to vilify the government for Friday’s police raid, a new poll shows the French evenly divided over the decision to forcibly remove the immigrants from the church.

The Le Monde newspaper reported today that 46 percent of respondents approved of the government’s action, while 46 percent disapproved. No margin of error was given.

Sympathy for the immigrants had soared as French television showed 10 of the immigrants wasting away during a dramatic hunger strike. They called off their strike on Sunday, the 52nd day.

President Jacques Chirac, who campaigned last year on promises to fight illegal immigration, defended the raid and said such crackdowns will continue.

``There will be no inflexibility with the policy on immigration,″ he said Sunday.

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