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Sarkozy No Favorite in Paris Suburbs

Tony Essono, in front, with Winda Ibrahim and her son Warren, said that although people in La Courneuve trust the ballot box, there will be trouble if Nicolas Sarkozy wins the presidency. (By John Ward Anderson -- The Washington Post)

Sarkozy has struggled for months to soften his image, but he rarely ventured into immigrant and minority communities, while Royal cultivated them. At a recent campaign rally, Sarkozy painted himself as the victim of a smear campaign, asking more than 40 times, "Why so much hatred?"

"There's a lot of hatred because of what he said," said La Courneuve resident Nadya Nekkar, 21, whose parents hail from Algeria. "France used immigrants to rebuild the country after World War II, and now he's saying immigrants are no good and should go home."

"He thinks young people destroy things because they enjoy it. He doesn't understand the cause of violence here," Nekkar said. She believes the violence is a result of poor education, high unemployment, inadequate housing and low-paying jobs. Sarkozy, with his promises of tax cuts and free-market reforms, "wants the rich to be richer and the poor to work harder," she said.

But many residents here expressed conflicting feelings about Sarkozy, saying his tough stance against crime helped make the streets safer.

"There are lawyers and doctors who live in these high-rises, not just hoodlums, and at least 80 percent of them are French, but Sarkozy didn't make any distinction and talked as if everybody here should be hosed down," said Kaambi Mze Soilihe, 35, a local youth counselor and French citizen who came here 13 years ago from the island of Comoros, a former French colony off the southeast coast of Africa.

"Nobody is against security and safety in this neighborhood -- we all want it -- but Sarkozy wants only repression."

Tony Essono, 32, an unemployed economist whose parents emigrated from Cameroon before he was born, said that despite years of anger and discrimination, people in La Courneuve were willing to put their faith in the ballot box "because they understand they can change something" by voting. But, he added, "if Sarkozy is elected, it means we haven't been heard, and we'll trash everything."

Researcher Corinne Gavard contributed to this report.

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