FRANCE-ELECTION-SARKOZY:Sarkozy's law-and-order agenda targets sex crimes
By Emmanuel Jarry
PARIS (Reuters) - Nicolas Sarkozy said on Saturday repeat sex offenders should be sentenced to life in prison, a further sign that the French president is focusing his re-election campaign on law-and-order issues, three weeks before voting begins.
Sarkozy had already been stressing his hardline approach to crime following a killing spree by an Islamist gunman in Toulouse earlier this month that rattled the country.
Voter approval of his handling of that crisis has given his campaign much needed momentum in what has become a close first-round battle with Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande.
On Saturday, Sarkozy told a Paris conference that society had a responsibility to stop serial rapists posing a threat after their release.
"I want repeated sexual crimes, judged within the same case, to be punished by life imprisonment instead of 20 years as it is today," Sarkozy told the conference organised by right-leaning victims' group, the Institute for Justice.
The former interior minister cited the case of Patrick Tremeaux, who committed a series of rapes in the 1990s whose original sentence was limited as he was not deemed likely to re-offend. Once released from prison, he raped more women before being caught and sentenced in 2009 to a further 20 years.
Sarkozy's comments came a day after a series of high-profile, pre-dawn raids throughout France against suspected Islamist militants. Sarkozy said on Friday more raids could follow in order to expel those "who have no business in the country".
The president's poll numbers have nudged up since the rampage by Mohamed Merah, an al Qaeda sympathiser who shot dead three soldiers, a rabbi and three Jewish school children in and around Toulouse before he was killed in a police raid.
Though polls show more than 70 percent of voters approve of Sarkozy's handling of the Toulouse shootings, law-and-order still lags unemployment and spending power as voters' main preoccupations.
An Ifop poll published on Saturday showed 71 percent of respondents believed unemployment was France's top priority versus 45 percent who cited crime and 39 percent citing illegal immigration.
Analysts say Sarkozy's hawkish rhetoric is a tactic to woo far-right voters away from the National Front's Marine Le Pen, who has railed against some immigrant's lack of integration in French society and what she sees as a lax immigration policy.
Sarkozy, who has tried to cast the Left as soft on crime, also took aim at juvenile delinquents on Saturday.
"The reality is that young people today bare no resemblance with young people after the (Second World) War."
He cited the case of four adolescents placed under investigation on Thursday on suspicion of shooting a 17-year-old over fears he would tell authorities about a burglary they are alleged to have committed.
The president is expected to unveil his full manifesto next week.
(Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Ben Harding)