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New French Cabinet Begins Work


A new French Cabinet got down to work following a government reorganization that brought in staunch conservatives and dismissed politicians known for their work on human rights and ethnic diversity.

France's new Cabinet reflects a shift to the right on the part of embattled President Nicolas Sarkozy, who announced the new ministers Sunday. Mr. Sarkozy is battling record-low popularity ratings and faces presidential elections in 2012. The new government brings in known conservative faces, while popular Prime Minister Francois Fillon keeps his job.

But what is striking are the ministers who have lost their jobs. Following his election in 2007, Mr. Sarkozy reached out to left-wing politicians and social activists. He appointed three female ministers from African backgrounds. All three are now out of power.

Also losing his post was former Socialist politician and Doctors Without Borders founder Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister. Mr. Kouchner's humanitarian background did not always mesh well with his government post.

In an interview with a French radio in August, Mr. Kouchner confessed he almost considered quitting over French expulsions of foreign Roma.

He was replaced by staunch conservative Michelle Aliot-Marie.

Also dropped from the Cabinet list were former urban affairs minister Fadela Amara, an ethnic North African and longtime leftist activist for minority rights. Popular ethnic-African Rama Yade lost her post as sports minister.

But the reaction of a number of French activists has been low key. French Human Rights League head Jean-Pierre Dubois criticizes Mr. Sarkozy's earlier efforts to diversify his government as cosmetic.

"It did not really change a lot in French society. So I guess it was just a communications maneuver and nothing more," he said.

Dubois also says Mr. Kouchner did not fight for human rights as foreign minister, an opinion shared by other rights activitists, but which Mr. Kouchner strongly disputes.

Activists like Zohra Bitan, a community leader, are also disappointed in former urban minister Amara.

Bitan told French radio that Amara failed to realize her promises of improving France's low-income neighborhoods. Ms. Amara had expressed frustration about what she described as government inertia and in-fighting.

Observers note President Sarkozy has a mixed record when it comes to diversity and immigration. He championed the formation of France's first representative Muslim council and has spoken favorably about "positive discrimination" for minorities. But he has also been criticized for his tough immigration and Roma policies.

France's new government does not lack diversity. Women in the Cabinet include Foreign Minister Aliot-Marie who previously held the post of justice minister. And ethnic-North African Jeannette Bougrab was named France's new state secretary for youth and community service.

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