French assembly approves divisive immigration bill

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PARIS, Sep 20 (Reuters) France's lower house National Assembly adopted an immigration bill today containing plans to demand DNA tests from immigrants which have sparked opposition inside President Nicolas Sarkozy's government.

Sarkozy, who made national identity a major theme of his presidential election campaign earlier this year, has promised to crack down on illegal immigration.

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

The left-wing opposition voted against the bill, which the Senate, the upper house, will debate next month.

An amendment proposing the DNA tests passed easily, but specifies that the tests will be carried out for a trial period of only two years.

''It's a pragmatic, fair text,'' said Eric Ciotti, a lawmaker from Sarkozy's centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).

''It gives us the tools to fight against illegal immigration.'' But the secretary of state for towns, Fadela Amara, who is of Algerian origin, said the use of DNA tests hurt her ''as the daughter of immigrants''.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a Socialist, and Martin Hirsch, a leftist campaigner for the homeless who entered Sarkozy's government as High Commissioner for Active Solidarity Against Poverty, also criticised the measure.

Sarkozy has hailed his ethnically diverse cabinet, which includes leftists like Kouchner, as a ''government of openness''.

But some commentators say divisions are emerging because Sarkozy dominates his team, leaving ministers little room for manoeuvre.

There is renewed speculation he will reshuffle his cabinet in January.

As interior minister in a previous conservative government, Sarkozy had already tightened immigration laws 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 allowing immigrants' relatives to come to France only if they spoke French.

REUTERS SKB RK1912

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