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France in Terror Crackdown After Merah; Presidential Campaigns Underway

Posted on the 04 April 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
France in terror crackdown after Merah; presidential campaigns underway

Mohamed Merah, the Toulouse gunman

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has ordered a terror crackdown in France. This comes two weeks after the 23-year old Mohamed Merah, who killed (allegedly) three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three soldiers in and around Toulouse, was gunned down by police. The siege, at his apartment block in the city, lasted 30 hours.

19 people were arrested in these sweeps last week, and 10 this week. Sarkozy, who is facing presidential elections, has vowed to root out all forms of militancy following the killings. The president, reported The Mail Online, is currently being beaten by his Socialist rival, Francois Hollande, in polls. But, reported Sky, he is now catching up, with security being one of the main planks of his campaign, though, reported The Guardian, he has been accused of capitalising on the Islamist threat for electoral purposes. CNN said that France had already deported two extremist Muslims, and was planning to deport more.

“You will see that in the weeks to come we will continue this absolutely systematic work of assuring the protection of the French by not tolerating such activities,” Nicolas Sarkozy said of the Forsane Alizza group, quoted on Sky.

The Mail Online reported that French police had tracked suspects on Islamist forums. The suspects had expressed “extreme views” and had planned to travel to places such as Afghanistan or Pakistan, or the Sahel belt in Africa. The site also said that 13 of the 19 arrested were alleged to have links to a radical French Islamist group called Forsane Alizza (“Knights of Pride”). Sky News reported that Merah claimed links with Al Qaeda, but added that official sources doubted that was true. it also said that the suspects were alleged to have preached “hate and violence”, as as well as being involved in plots, calling for Shariah law, and hiding weapons.

Commentators are saying that whilst President Nicolas Sarkozy may be lagging in the polls behind Francois Hollande, the Socialist candidate, his new emphasis on security issues is bringing him back up. And there are more extreme candidates whose fortunes are on the rise: the National Front and the Communist Party.

“Those arrested have a similar profile to Mohammed Merah. They are isolated individuals, who are self-radicalised,” said a police source quoted on Sky News.

So what’s the deal with the Presidential elections? Political success seemed to be carrying Francois Hollande to the French presidency, said William Pfaff in The Chicago Herald Tribune. But the Socialist seems “too nice” – which you can’t say about Sarkozy. The latter was fast to get to the scene of the siege in Toulouse. Hollande, however, is not “action-man”, and he was a “passive observer.” His party is also linked with “tolerance for immigrants” – and recent events have shown that there is a wider network of jihadi sympathisers than previously thought. Hollande’s alliance with the Green party is looking shaky; plus he also has to deal with a resurgent Communist Party, under Jean-Luc Melanchon, which might take a large enough bit of the vote to stop Hollande from winning the first round of presidential elections.

And what about immigrants? And now, said Vinay Kumar Pathak on Eurasia Review, two candidates for the presidency are trying to portray themselves as “guardians of French republicanism values.” Forget about Sarkozy (who loves, said Gulf News, “crisis-management mode”) – what about National Front leader Marine Le Pen? Both have been “sacrificing the rights of immigrant communities” on the basis of protecting their citizens from the ills of religions. They’re creating a “state of xenophobia.” Sarkozy’s positioning himself as “father of the nation”; Le Pen’s “sagging fortunes” have been “rejuvenated.” “Far better if the candidates came forward with candles in their hands in combined Jewish-Muslim-Christian vigils or marches as the nation grieves for those who were killed in Toulouse.”

France needs to focus on the right issues. Sarkozy’s indeed edging closer to National Front politics, said  French essaysist Luc Debieuvre on Gulf News. The irony is that Sarkozy “supports Islamists in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt or Syria, but not in France.” But Malenchon has no real chance; and now Hollande is facing a lack of enthusiasm. But still, it is “doubtful” that Sarkozy will be saved. This presidential campaign has been one of “the worst” “since the inception of the Fifth Republic.” Major issues have been “hardly tackled by the various candidates” – a “redefinition of French foreign policy, a fight against rampant deterioration of the relationship between the private and public sectors, with the associated corruption, a serious move against unemployment and lack of growth imposed by German austerity measures, a serious effort against crime.” And what about the people? Could France even turn into “another Greece”? It’s hard to tell who the winner might be at the moment.

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