Sarkozy wants immigration halved

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says France should halve its intake of migrants.

The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has put race and identity at the centre of his election campaign by saying France should halve its intake of migrants because it cannot integrate them.

Mr Sarkozy, who faces the first presidential election round on April 22, told a television interviewer: ”Our system of integration is working more and more badly because we have too many foreigners on our territory and we can no longer manage to find them accommodation, a job, a school.”

The number of newcomers should be halved, he said. ”Over the five-year term [of the presidency] I think that to restart the process of integration in good conditions, we must divide by two the number of people we welcome, that’s to say, pass from 180,000 a year to 100,000.”

He said immigration could be a boon for France but needed to be controlled through tighter rules on residency. Some benefits for migrant workers should be offered only to those who had been in the country for 10 years and worked for five years, he said.

The comments will be seen as an attempt to claw back conservative voters from Marine Le Pen of the anti-immigration National Front party.

Mr Sarkozy is trailing the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande, in opinion polls, with the latest suggesting Mr Hollande had widened his lead, now sitting at 54 per cent to 46 per cent in a head-to-head contest.

Mr Sarkozy has already pushed through tough immigration rules and faced condemnation from Europe for deporting thousands of Roma Gypsies.

His comments follow protests by Muslims and Jews over criticism from Ms Le Pen, Mr Sarkozy and the Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, of religious practices regarding the slaughter of animals. Ms Le Pen said non-Muslim consumers were being misled because all meat in Paris was prepared using halal or kosher methods of slaughter, which demand the animal’s throat be slit without it being stunned first.

In fact, it was later revealed that, while Paris abattoirs mostly supplied Muslim butchers, most meat sold in the city did not come from those abattoirs.

On Saturday Mr Sarkozy said meat should be labelled with the method of slaughter and Mr Fillon suggested religious methods were out of date.

Mr Hollande said the comments had gone too far and called for ”restraint” in national debate.

The Grand Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, said: ”France’s problems are so major, as we are in a period of crisis, so how can the issue of kosher meat and halal meat be a major problem?”

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