France's Hollande faces backlash in schoolgirl deportation row

Sun Oct 20, 2013 7:29am EDT
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By Nicholas Vinocur

PARIS (Reuters) - President Francois Hollande was widely criticized on Sunday for offering to allow a deported immigrant teenager back into France without her family, and a poll showed his approval ratings at a record low.

Hollande waded into the dispute on Saturday when he offered Leonarda Dibrani, a teenager of Roma origin ordered off a school bus and deported to Kosovo, the chance to return to France to finish her studies, but only if she did so alone.

The proposal drew angry condemnation, including from Dibrani, who said that she would not return alone, exposing Hollande to fresh attacks on his leadership.

"What do 80 percent of the French think about this?" Francois Bayrou, a centrist party leader who ran against Hollande in round one of the 2012 presidential election, told i>Tele.

"They think the state has totally lost its compass, deciding one thing and then deciding its exact opposite one minute later... Hollande's authority is significantly weakened here."

Dibrani's expulsion after her family failed to obtain political asylum has tested Hollande's ability to handle the issue of illegal migration, a source of increasing public frustration in France.

Students protested to demand the 15-year-old schoolgirl be allowed back, even as opinion polls showed that most French wanted the family out.

Opponents from the center-right UMP party accused Hollande of being so obsessed with satisfying his Socialist base that he had betrayed the will of the public. Even Socialists appeared dissatisfied with the president's attempt at a compromise.   Continued...

Leonarda Dibrani shops in the town of Mitrovica in Kosovo October 19, 2013. REUTERS/Hazir Reka