Sarkozy cancels Caribbean trip in face of protests

Martin Arnold – The Financial Times

December 7 2005 – Copyright The Financial Times
Franceís colonial past caught up with Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday as the interior minister cancelled a Caribbean trip to avoid protests over what some claim are political attempts to glorify the countryís history as a colonial power.
The last-minute cancellation of Mr Sarkozyís trip to the French overseas territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe is the latest sign the government has raised racial tensions by introducing a law calling for schools to teach the ìpositive roleî of colonisation.
The debate over Franceís colonial history ñ evoking painful memories of the bloody military defeat in Algeria ñ comes a month after French suburbs were shaken by rioting carried out by the children of immigrants.
People in the Caribbean islands staged demonstrations against Mr Sarkozy, who had been due to arrive there Wednesday night. He abandoned the trip after officials warned he would meet a hostile reception and local leaders said they would refuse to meet him.
Franceís overseas territories have a population of about 1.5m citizens, who are eligible to vote in French elections.
The angry reaction to Mr Sarkozy, the early favourite for the 2007 presidential elections, could cost him valuable votes. He has been vilified by Franceís immigrant community for promising to ìeradicate the gangreneî from the violence-torn suburbs and ìclear out the scumî.
The soul-searching over French colonial history and the deep social troubles exposed by last monthís riots have added to the impression of a country suffering from an identity crisis.
The colonisation debate was sparked by a law stating that ìthe school syllabus should recognise, in particular, the benefits of the French presence in overseas territoriesî.
The opposition Socialist party on Wednesday criticised Mr Sarkozy, saying he ìshows the limits of his courage when …?he insults the dignity of people in the overseas territoriesî.,ft_acl=,s01=2.html

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