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French Prostitutes Rally Against Tougher Crime Bill - 2002-11-05

There was an unusual demonstration in front of the French Senate in Paris Tuesday. A group of prostitutes is protesting a new anti-crime bill the could affect immigrants. The protesters have the support of a broad coalition of left-wing groups who believe the anti-crime bill declares war against the poor.

The legislation, named the Sarkozy bill after the hard-line Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, calls for prison terms and fines for some migrants, beggars and prostitutes.

The proposed bill is the result of an election promise by the government of Jacques Chirac to make citizens feel safer by taking control of the streets. In some ways, it resembles the zero-tolerance policy used to cut crime in American cities.

But the left in France considers the legislation authoritarian and says it targets the poor and politically weak. The Socialist and Green parties, trade unions, human rights groups and now prostitutes have demonstrated in the streets against the bill. They say the government should be fighting poverty, not poor people.

If approved, the legislation would make most forms of street prostitution illegal, and would send to prison migrants who squat on private property and beggars who solicit too aggressively. The bill also gives the police greater power to search cars and people and to keep records on suspects including DNA samples.

Debate on the bill has been delayed but passage is considered certain since the government has large majorities in the national assembly and the Senate, the two branches of France's legislature.