Facebook threats force French minister to postpone wedding

John Lichfield
Tuesday 07 September 2010 00:00 BST

As far as Eric Besson is concerned, Facebook, the social website, just became antisocial. The French Immigration minister, 52, has been forced to postpone his wedding to a 24-year-old Tunisian art student after more than 1,000 people signed up to a Facebook group which pledged to disrupt the ceremony.

Mr Besson, a politician of the centre-left who joined President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right government in 2007, has long been one of the most unpopular politicians in France. His reputation has been further damaged in recent weeks by his part in implementing, and justifying, Mr Sarkozy's crackdown on Roma gypsy immigrants from eastern Europe. It has become an article of faith on part of the French left that Mr Besson, once a reformer, had turned into a racist since joining the Sarkozy administration.

When a French newspaper revealed that the recently divorced Mr Besson was going to marry Yasmine Tordjman in a civic ceremony in Paris on 16 September, a Facebook group was formed to "give the minister the same medicine" that French authorities are giving the Roma. The Besson-haters were especially incensed that his bride to be should be not only young and beautiful but of North African origin. He was to have been married in the town hall of the seventh arrondissement in Paris the week after next – where the guests were to include President Sarkozy.

"I have decided to shift the date and venue of the marriage to make sure that it becomes again something that it should never have ceased to be – an exclusively private matter," he said. "I am not afraid of jeers and jokes but I don't see why public money should be spent on extra security for a private event."

Mr Besson said he deplored the fact that a newspaper had revealed the place and date of the wedding "without even warning me". "I cannot accept that I should live as I have for the last few weeks under the lenses of the paparazzi and with gutter journalists investigating my private life and that of my fiancée," he said.

Ms Tordjman is a student at an art school and granddaughter of the former first lady of Tunisia, Wassila Bourguiba. The Immigration minister was divorced last year from the university professor Sylvie Brunel, with whom he has three children.

Mr Besson has been in the forefront of the campaign launched by Mr Sarkozy in July to clear illegal camps of Roma immigrants in France and expel them or persuade them to accept money to return to Romania or Bulgaria. As Mr Besson has been at pains to point out, there is nothing especially new about the expulsions. They have been going on for more than 18 months. What is new is the decision of the French government to make the Roma a symbol of Mr Sarkozy's determination to appear tough on immigration and crime.

This approach has been mostly choreographed by the Interior minister, Brice Hortefeux. Mr Besson has appeared at times to disapprove of the media jamboree sought by the government – while justifying the policy of forced, or voluntary, repatriation.

His status as semi-official pariah and "traitor to the left" has none the less brought much of the popular anger about the Roma policy on to his head. Thousands of people demonstrated against the anti-Roma campaign in Paris and other French cities at the weekend. None the less, over 60 per cent of French people approve of the campaign, according to opinion polls.

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