Chirac pledges inquiry into teaching of colonial history





President Jacques Chirac has stepped into the row over French colonialism, promising an inquiry into how it is taught in schools and championing the creation of a day commemorating slavery.

In a bid to appeal to people of African origins in the country's troubled housing estates, he also backed fighting discrimination by pressing employers to accept anonymous job applications.

Answering questions from readers of the daily tabloid newspaper Le Parisien, he again distanced himself from the language of his interior minister and would-be successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, by warning politicians to choose their words carefully when commenting on suburban crime.

Mr Sarkozy had talked about la racaille - "rabble" or "riff-raff" but capable of being understood as "scum" - when asked about the recent troubles.

But Mr Chirac said: "When someone commits a crime, that person is a delinquent or criminal. Those are the terms that should be used."

A weekend poll suggested only one per cent of the French want Mr Chirac to stand for a third term in 2007 and his words could be seen as a politician attempting to improve his standing.

France and its past and present overseas possessions have been torn in recent days by controversy about new legislation requiring children to be taught about the "positive" aspects of colonialism.

Mr Sarkozy was forced to call off a visit to the French Caribbean d├ępartements of Martinique and Guadeloupe amid threats of protests.



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