France curbs immigrants under new law: Balladur government package includes restriction on marriages of convenience

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FRANCE'S National Assembly voted yesterday on a law gov erning the entry and stay of foreigners that puts new limits on immigrants and marriage to French citizens.

The law, proposed by Charles Pasqua, the Gaullist Interior Minister, was expected to be passed by a large margin, given that the governing centre-right coalition has an 80-per-cent majority in the lower house of parliament.

Among controversial innovations were a decision to empower mayors to refuse marriage to foreigners whom they believe are seeking marriages of convenience to stay in France. Similarly, the law withdrew the right of obtaining nationality by marriage where the foreigner does not have legal residence status in France. These points were aimed at illegal immigrants who seek to regularise their status through marriage.

The bill had a tumultuous first reading in parliament, with various attempts to harden up the law or soften it from within the governing majority.

Claude Malhuret, the centre- right deputy for Vichy and the former minister for human rights in the 1986-88 conservative government, obtained a reversal of a clause denying state medical help at home to illegal immigrants after Edouard Balla dur, the Prime Minister, said this troubled him, too. Mr Malhuret is a former head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres medical charity.

Some of the attempts to toughen the legislation came from Alain Marsaud, a Gaullist deputy for Limoges. He successfully campaigned for mayors to have the right to veto marriages.

Mr Marsaud, before he was elected to parliament in last March's election, had been an examining magistrate and the first head of the 14th Section of the prosecutor's office, set up in 1986 to fight terrorism.

In this function, he headed the investigation into the Paris bombings that year that killed 13 and maimed and wounded dozens more. Most of the perpetrators turned out to be North African-born French nationals who were part of an Iranian-commanded network.

One proposal by Mr Marsaud that was not accepted was to empower police to check the identity of any person 'by any element permitting the presumption of foreign nationality other than racial origin'.

In the past, mayors who refused to celebrate marriages could be taken to court. Before the last parliamentary elections, Dominique Baudis, the centrist mayor of Toulouse, refused to conduct a marriage ceremony of a young immigrant man with a Frenchwoman in her seventies because he did not believe it was a union of love. In France, a civil marriage ceremony before a mayor is essential.

The new law, tightening frontier controls and allowing police to check identities whenever they fear public order may be threatened, was part of a package introduced by the three-month- old Balladur government.

While the new measures were criticised by the Socialist and Communist opposition, there was little doubt that they had widespread public support.