Sarkozy under fire over video of police brutality
A VIDEO showing French police dragging immigrant women and children away from a protest squat has sharpened accusations that President Nicolas Sarkozy has made a cynical turn toward the authoritarian right.
Although police insist that the disturbing footage is misleading, the film of the apparently brutal arrests north of Paris last month coincides with a noisy campaign by the floundering Mr Sarkozy to revive his image as a politician tough on crime and immigration.
In the video, posted on YouTube, a pregnant African woman is seen screaming as she is dragged away by police. Another woman, with a baby strapped to her back, is seen being dragged along the ground by police officers.
The film was shot on July 21 at La Courneuve when police broke up a demonstration by 150 people, mostly African immigrant women, protesting against their eviction from illegal squats in a council tower block.
Homeless and immigrant-support groups have used the footage to draw attention to what they say is a more violent approach -- and a sense of Sarkozy-inspired immunity -- among some police officers.
The allegation comes at a time when Mr Sarkozy stands accused of launching a barrage of hardline measures to move attention away from damaging political scandals and dismal poll ratings.
Although the squat arrests preceded his get-tough campaign, they took place in the same troubled estate where the president once threatened to use a "karcher", or industrial hose, to clean out drug gangs.
Jean-Baptiste Eyrault, spokesman for the homeless pressure group Droit au Logement, said the violence at La Courneuve showed that a "threshold" had been crossed.
"Police don't normally act like this," he said. "I'm afraid we're going to see more and more of this kind of behaviour. The head of state governs through the police and in return the police feel protected."
A police spokesman said that the short video, which was viewed more than 400,000 times in its first day on the internet, had been misleadingly edited.
The evacuation and arrest of the demonstrators had been mostly peaceful, the police said.
The woman with a baby on her back had "thrown herself on the ground", a spokesman said, "which meant the officers could not at first see her baby".
In an aggressive speech in Grenoble last Friday, Mr Sarkozy made a direct connection between immigration and crime. He said France was "suffering the consequences of 50 years of insufficiently regulated immigration" -- words that reminded his critics of the far-right National Front. (© Independent News Service)