Dissent in French govt over immigration bill

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PARIS, Sep 18 (Reuters) French lawmakers examined an immigration bill today that has outraged rights groups and sparked some opposition inside President Nicolas Sarkozy's government over proposals to introduce DNA tests to immigrants.

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 new 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''. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a socialist, 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 leftwingers like Kouchner. But some commentators say divisions have started to emerge inside a government dominated by Sarkozy, who leaves ministers little room for manoeuvre.

DISSENT Some 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.

Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the government would only support DNA tests if they were voluntary, families were reimbursed once the link was proved and if the measure was reviewed by parliament after a two-year trial period.

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.

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 200,000 and 400,000 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.

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.

REUTERS RC BST0159

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