News Agencies – March 7, 2012

France’s prime minister scrambled to dispel concerns in Jewish and Muslim communities
after criticizing the ritual slaughter of animals for kosher and halal meat. Halal meat has
emerged as a hot-button issue in the campaign for presidential elections starting next
month in France. Francois Fillon’s call for religions to “reflect” upon what he called
outdated traditions has fed a hyper-charged political atmosphere. His boss, conservative
President Nicolas Sarkozy, has openly courted far right voters in hopes of boosting
his lagging chances of re-election, with digs at Muslim practices and calls to shrink
immigration.

But for many, Fillon’s comments went too far. He hosted Jewish leaders and was
expected to meet with Muslim leaders in what appeared to be an attempt to ease concerns
about his comments on French radio this week.

Sarkozy hit a nationalist note with his first big campaign rally last month and has
continued the theme since. He criticized special indulgences for halal meat in schools or
separate swimming hours for Muslim women in public pools. “There is no place in the
Republic for xenophobia, there is no place for racism. … There is no place for pools with
hours for men and hours for women,” Sarkozy told a rally in Bordeaux. He also called for
halving the number of immigrants who come to France each year.

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