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Sarkozy's crackdown on offenders and gypsies

After riots, the French president announces that offenders of French origin could be stripped of their acquired nationality. Illegal Roma camps will be removed, while Prominent French Roma musician Bireli Lagrene says he wants to leave France. An Israeli group buys hotel that hosted Nazi officers, then concentration camp refugees. And Carla Bruni stars in a Woody Allen movie: Is she fit for the job?

Woody Allen

Top News: As a former interior minister, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has built part of his reputation on his tough stance against immigrants. This was instrumental to his victory in the 2007 presidential elections.

But now he is going even further — after violent incidents in several French towns, Sarkozy announced that offenders of foreign origin could be stripped of their acquired French nationality if they are convicted of serious crimes, including threatening a police officer’s life.  

Surprisingly the measure was well received by many French people: According to a recent poll conducted by Ifop for the daily Le Figaro, 70 percent support the law, which has yet to be passed. The poll was a welcomed boost for Sarkozy, whose approval rate recently hit a record low.

But the measure prompted outrage among French intellectuals and abroadProminent Jewish philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy accused Sarkozy of following a far-right agenda.

New York Times editorial also judiciously pointed out that Sarkozy’s father was born in Hungary and his wife in Italy, and that both of them became naturalized French citizens. The New York Times editorial also accused Sarkozy of “fanning dangerous anti-immigrant passions for short-term political gain.”  

Indeed, Sarkozy’s approval rate had plummeted to record-low levels because of the sluggish economy and the conflict of interests scandal, which still needs to be investigated.   

The French president’s announcement came after a series of clashes in Grenoble between rioters and police, which claimed the life of 27-year-old man shot by police — it was later determined by a prosecutor that the police had acted in self defense.  

In the rough Paris suburbs of La Courneuve, footage of women of African descent with their kids being violently removed by police shocked people both domestically and internationally. These women were actually protesting against their eviction from a building that was to be destroyed.  

The French president also tightened his grip on the Gypsy community, which claims to have hundreds of thousands of members in France.

He announced that police will shut down 300 illegal Roma camps within the next three months — there are hundreds of thousands of traveling people in France.  

Last week, around 100 Gypsies were removed from their camp in Saint-Etienne, where they were living in makeshift tents.

The French government argues that these camps are “sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and crime."  

Since there is no official "voice" for Gypsies interests, the Gypsy guitar player Bireli Lagrene expressed his frustration in the southern local newspaper La Depeche du Midi.

“I am a Gyspy,” Lagrene told the paper. “I know that these people take life one day at a time, and they need this freedom. Now the government wants to take this freedom away from them.”  

“I am tired of the French system,” Lagrene said. “I want to get out of France soon.” 

Money: Here is a revenge on history that took the shape of a hotel acquisition.

More than 65 years after Nazi officers occupied the historic Lutetia hotel in Paris, after the very same bedrooms hosted concentration camp refugees — it was a main caring and meeting center for refugees and their families — the Israeli Alrov group has bought the property.

The hotel, celebrating its centenary this year, was previously owned by the Louvre Group, Europe’s largest hotel group after Accor. The Louvre Hotel Group itself is owned by U.S.-based Starwood Capital, and its growing debt of more than two billions dollars prompted a disinvestment from the luxury hotel sector and a focus instead on lower-priced hotels.

The Lutetia was sold for an estimated $200 million — Alvrov reportedly plans to invest $100 million to turn the Lutetia into yet another luxurious hotel in the French capital.   

Elsewhere: Just after the French government voted in favor of tax incentives aimed at foreign filmmakers, Woody Allen decided to film a movie in France, called “Midnight in Paris.”  

Allen had kept the project on the shelf for a while, but the 20 percent tax break on production costs sealed the deal for him.  

This will be the first Woody Allen movie to be shot entirely in the French capital — although he had already shot scenes in Paris for the 1996 film “Everyone says I love you.”

And to add buzz to the project, Allen’s eye fell on none other that Sarkozy’s wife Carla Bruni for the reportedly non-speaking role of a museum curator.

Whether it is to protect his presidential actress, or his desire to be able to work in a more quiet environment, Allen has been particularly secretive about “Midnight in Paris,” particularly in the first phases of the shoot when only a few journalists were accredited to cover it.  

The names of the streets where the movie was shot were kept secret, and staffers wore badges that read “W.A.S.P.” or “Woody Allen Secret Project.”  But soon enough, the press found its way to the shooting locations.  

The French quickly spread the "news" that Bruni, who has never acted professionally before, was struggling to meet the requirements of the obsessive Allen — it reportedly took Bruni 35 takes to get a simple baguette shopping scene right.  

The French glossy magazine VSD went a step further by publishing on its cover a picture of an apparently angry Sarkozy on a shooting location.  

Sarkozy reportedly got angry at paparazzi when he picked up his wife at a shooting location, and one of the pictures published by VSD shows Bruni trying to calm the president down.