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France's Parking Violation Pardons Costly, Controversial - 2002-07-25

The French parliament has approved a nationwide amnesty for minor law-breakers such as people who owe fines for parking violations. It's a tradition for the parliament to offer such an amnesty after a president is elected and Jacques Chirac won a second term as president in May. But as this time the amnesty is both costly and controversial.

France will, because of the amnesty, forgive almost 218,000 minor breaches of the law, at a cost in lost fines of about $300 million. Knowing that the amnesty was coming, many people ignored parking regulations and traffic signs in the weeks running up to the election.

In Paris, some streets looked more like junkyards with cars abandoned in intersections and on sidewalks. One town in the south of France simply gave up handing out tickets.

The government's willingness to forgive so many scofflaws strikes some as inappropriate, considering that the ruling right of center coalition campaigned for more law and order and has introduced legislation cracking down on some forms of criminal activity.

This year's amnesty is more limited than in the past, it does not include many previously forgiven categories of violations such as illegal arms possession and trafficking in pitbull dogs.

The leftist opposition tried and failed to get amnesty for some individuals, including anti-globalization protester Jose Bove, who is serving time for destroying a McDonald's restaurant.

The left accused the government of hypocrisy, amidst continuing reports that it plans to seek a statute of limitations that would effectively prevent investigation of several rightist politicians for past financial scandals.