The demonstrators, whom police said numbered 3,500, among them Jack Lang, the Socialist presidential hopeful and former culture minister, carried banners some of which read: "800 square metres for ministers: 8 square metres for the unfortunate."

This referred to a scandal last year involving Herve Gaymard, the former finance minister, who resigned after coming under fire for living in a luxury apartment that cost the state 14,000 euros a month.

Police evicted several hundred of the immigrants from France's largest squat in the Cachan suburb three weeks ago, fuelling a heated immigration debate ahead of 2007 elections.

Rights groups denounced the move as a "media stunt" by Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister, to underline his tough immigration stance.

Dozens were arrested to be sent back to their country of origin and others agreed to be housed in hotels.

Some 200 of the immigrants crowded into a school gym, vowing not to move until authorities found them permanent homes.

The French interior ministry said in a statement late on Saturday after a meeting with representatives of the immigrants that 92 apartments had been identified for those who were in France legally but those staying illegally would be expelled.

About 4.5million immigrants live in France, official statistics show. The interior ministry estimates there are between 200,000 and 400,000 illegal foreigners in the country.