Young immigrants despise Sarkozy for calling them "scum" days before riots broke out in the suburb Clichy-sous-Bois, and the term has haunted his election campaign.
"It will be worrying times for France if Sarkozy wins the presidency"
Be Humble, UK
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In Seine-Saint-Denis, the region where Clichy-sous-Bois is located, voter registration was up by 8.5 per cent, more than twice the average nationwide increase, the interior ministry has said.
"If Sarkozy wins there will certainly be riots here in Clichy and all over France," said Moroccan-born first-time voter Mohammed Saidi, 43, an electrician and father of four voted in Clichy-sous-Bois.
Another first-time voter, 20-year-old Fatma Celik, said that if Sarkozy were elected, she was sure "people are going to go crazy here".
After the riots, suburban neighbourhoods were targeted by a massive voter registration campaign as a way to address the disenfranchisement of young minorities who feel France has never accepted them.
The riots were sparked by the accidental electrocution of youths who hid from police in a power substation in Clichy-sous-Bois, and spread to suburbs throughout France, exacerbated by frustrations over high unemployment and racial discrimination.
Sarkozy has tried to reach out to minorities by promoting "positive discrimination", a policy akin to affirmative action.
"I intend to continue to call a hoodlum a hoodlum and scum, scum"
Nicolas Sarkozy, conservative candidate
But many despise his tough police tactics, uncompromising language and hardline stance on immigrants.
And he has refused to back down from his "scum" comment.
"I intend to continue to call a hoodlum a hoodlum and scum, scum,'' he said last week.
"It's not a word that's insulting; it's the behaviour of hoodlums that's insulting."