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French election: Is Muslim candidate's criminal record fair game or race baiting?

Ahead of next month's French election, allegations about a French-African Muslim candidate's criminal record is raising questions about whether France offers a level playing field for ethnic minorities. Ali Soumaré, a candidate in regional elections, says he is the victim of slander.

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Despite ideals of equality and suburbs packed with ethnic minorities, politics in France is still mainly populated by whites. As the country prepares for regional elections, a popular candidate with African origins and a Muslim name is facing serious attacks that demonstrate the barriers that still remain for minority groups trying to break into French politics.

Ali Soumaré is the No. 1 Socialist party list candidate in the Val d’Oise suburb outside of Paris. The district, known as “Nine-Five,” is poor and tough, a place where young, unemployed Africans and Arabs often stand around “holding up the walls,” to use the Algerian expression. In these neighborhoods, Mr. Soumaré has become a symbol of progress.

Even Le Monde newspaper called Soumaré a “rising star” following his calm mediation between police and locals during a major riot in 2007 after a police car killed two French Arab and African children and protesters shot and injured four police.

But now the unusual candidate finds himself in the midst of a fiery controversy. Ruling party figures have alleged that he has a repeat offender arrest record and requested that he withdraw from the race. Minority groups mainly see this as a craven attempt by the old guard to defame and topple their young star. Meanwhile, Soumaré and the Socialists plan charge ruling party figures with slander.

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