Unrest in French government over immigration bill

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PARIS, Sep 18 (Reuters) French lawmakers examined an immigration bill today which has triggered a wave of criticism among rights groups and also sparked some opposition inside President Nicolas Sarkozy's government.

Sarkozy, a right-wing law-and-order hardliner, was elected in May following a campaign in which national identity and a promise to crackdown on immigration were major themes.

But several members of his new government have criticised the new bill, which includes language tests for immigration candidates and proposals to introduce DNA tests to verify ties between immigrants and relatives they want to bring to France.

France's secretary of state for towns, Fadela Amara, who is of Algerian origin, said the DNA test proposal hurt her ''as the daughter of immigrants'', and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also said he did not like it.

''What bothers me is that this heaps shame on foreigners who want to come to us. That shocks me,'' said Amara, who made a name for herself with an association for girls in poor suburbs before joining the government.

Sarkozy has hailed his ethnically-diverse cabinet as a ''government of openness'', which also includes members of the political left. But some commentators say divisions have started to emerge inside a government in which Sarkozy is the dominant figure who leaves ministers little room for manoeuvre.

Several lawmakers from Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party have also voiced concern over the DNA tests, but the immigration bill is widely expected to clear the lower house, where Sarkozy's centre-right has a large majority.

After that vote, seen later this week, the Senate upper house of parliament is set to debate the bill next month.

''NUMBER STORY'' Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux has defended the new bill, pointing out that a parliamentary commission, and not the government, had proposed the amendment on the DNA tests.

''A responsible control of migratory flows seems the only possible policy,'' he told lawmakers as he presented the bill.

An OpinionWay survey published on Tuesday showed 74 per cent of voters were in favour of only allowing immigrants' relatives to come to France if they spoke French.

Kouchner, the foreign minister and former socialist health minister, criticised Hortefeux's drive to meet a target to expel 25,000 illegal immigrants by the end of the year.

''I don't like the number story,'' he said. ''Numbers are not everything in this affair.'' French officials estimate between 2,00,000 and 4,00,000 illegal immigrants live in France.

Sarkozy already tightened immigration laws as interior minister under a previous conservative government after youths in poor suburbs -- many of them descendants of immigrants -- torched thousands of cars in three weeks of rioting in 2005.

REUTERS SR AS2103

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