Le Pen visits immigrant suburb
French anti-immigration leader taunts rivals for not visiting site of 2005 riots.
Last Modified: 06 Apr 2007 20:51 GMT
Le Pen has taunted his rivals over their failure to visit the Argenteuil estates [AFP]
Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of France's National Front party, has visited a multiracial Paris suburb whose inhabitants were once referred to as "scum" by Nicolas Sarkozy, his conservative election rival.
The anti-immigration campaigner shook hands with Muslim women and a black man during his surprise visit to the Argenteuil estate on Friday.
"We want to help you get out of these suburban ghettos where French politicians have parked you...only to call you scum later," Le Pen said.
During a 2005 visit to Argenteuil, Sarkozy, then interior minister, vowed to rid the area of the "scum" he said were ruining life for other residents.
The comments were blamed for fuelling tensions in the ethnically diverse French suburbs.
A few days later the worst riots in 40 years erupted after two youths died of electrocution while fleeing from police.
Sarkozy has not returned to Argenteuil since.
'Go home'
Le Pen and other rivals have taunted him over his unwillingness to visit the suburbs during his campaign for fear of sparking new unrest.
"Thank you for allowing me to speak here, where even our former interior minister dared not come," Le Pen said at the start of the short visit.
"I want to prove that there are no 'no-go' areas as far as we are concerned."
One onlooker shouted "Go back home!" as he arrived.
Souko Coumba, an immigrant from Mauritius, said seeing Le Pen filled her with "hurt".
"He doesn't like blacks. My children are not going to vote for him," she said.
"Le Pen didn't call us 'rabble' but that's still what he thinks of us," said Karim.
The National Front leader is calling for a halt to immigration that he sees as the source of France's problems, fueling unemployment and threatening its way of life.
The 78-year old stunned France in the 2002 presidential election by finishing second.
He is in fourth place in the polls for the first round April 22 vote and says he is confident of winning a place in the second round on May 22.
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