French parliament extends state of emergency to three months

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The French Parliament passed a law extending the state of emergency decreed on November 8 by president Jacques Chirac for a duration of 3 months, the executive being authorized to terminate this period earlier if necessary. The November 8 decision, based on a 1955 statute, could last for a maximum of 12 days only, after which Parliament had to vote on an extension.

The state of emergency allows local authorities (prefects) to prohibit public meetings and regulate movements of persons, including curfews. In addition, in certain zones specified by the executive, where riots have recently taken place, local authorities may close meeting halls or bars; detain firearms; and authorize searches inside habitations during the day or the night by administrative order (normally, searches during formal criminal investigations have to be authorized by a judge). The government said that it will not use the power to regulate the media, and that searches will be subject to supervision by the judiciary.

The law was defended by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, in charge of law enforcement. Sarkozy spoke before the French National Assembly (which approved the text on November 15) and the French Senate (which approved it on November 16); he defended the actions of the government and explained why, in his opinion, the law had to be voted. Sarkozy is also the head of the UMP party, which holds a majority in both houses, and there was no doubt that the text would be approved.

Sarkozy added that in the forthcoming months, CRS (riot division of the Police) and Gendarmerie mobile forces would operate daily in difficult suburbs as a "proximity police". He contended that the "proximity police" established by preceding left-wing government was too much concerned with social activities and not enough about arresting criminals. Sarkozy has also contended that some of the riots were orchestrated by drug traffickers, gangsters and other criminals in order to secure lawless zones.

The French Socialist Party opposed the law, claiming it was excessive. Some left-wing members of parliament contended that using a law passed in 1955 to help quashing Algerian independence movements against children of Algerian immigrants was somewhat insensitive and unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to repeal the 1955 law. On the other hand, right-wing anti-immigrant politician Philippe de Villiers has contended that the government was far too soft and called for the use of military force. Jean-Marie Le Pen, a longtime opponent of immigration from poor, Muslim countries, pointed out that the events vindicated what he had long said.

Members of Sarkozy's UMP party blamed the de facto polygamy of some African immigrants for the failure of their families to raise and educate children properly. They suggested a more restrictive approach to immigration.

Nicolas Sarkozy is a probable contender for the 2007 presidential election. According to polls, his approval rate jumped by +11 to 63% during the events; he leads the approval opinions for presidential candidates.

Sources (in French)