Sarkozy tells comeback rally he would ban burkini across France

Fri Aug 26, 2016 10:18am EDT
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By Ingrid Melander

CHATEAURENARD, France (Reuters) - Nicolas Sarkozy said on Thursday he would impose a nationwide ban on burkinis if elected back to the presidency in 2017, positioning himself as a strong defender of French values and tough on immigration.

Hundreds of supporters waving French flags chanted "Nicolas! Nicolas!" and applauded as Sarkozy, a conservative president from 2007 to 2012 before losing an election to Socialist Francois Hollande, promised to protect the French people.

"I will be the president that re-establishes the authority of the state," Sarkozy told a crowd of more than 2,000 packing a sports hall in Chateaurenard, a Provence town where his Les Republicains beat the far-right Front National (FN) in regional elections last year.

"I want to be the president who guarantees the safety of France and of every French person," the 61-year-old said, sending a message that he could tackle the Islamist violence that has killed 230 people in attacks since January 2015.

For months he lagged in opinion polls behind Alain Juppe, a mild-mannered, more centrist former prime minister who is his main rival for the November primaries that will choose a conservative candidate for the election.

But his popularity, which had already started improving with party sympathizers in June, rose after Islamist attacks on a Bastille Day crowd in Nice and on a priest in Normandy.

Taking a hard line on a debate that has agitated France over the past weeks, Sarkozy told supporters in Chateaurenard, his first rally for the 2017 election, that the full-body swimwear known as the burkini should be banned throughout the country.

Several seaside towns have outlawed it, arguing that it breaks French laws on secularism, but there is no national ban.   Continued...

Nicolas Sarkozy, former head of the Les Republicains political party and a former French president, attends his first political rally since declaring his intention to run in 2017 for president, in Chateaurenard, France, August 25, 2016.   REUTERS/Philippe Laurenson