Nicolas Sarkozy says 'nothing racist' about new immigration bill

Speaking in Bamako, his first stop on a two-day trip to West Africa, Sarkozy said there was "nothing racist, nothing xenophobic" about the legislation which, if passed, would clamp down on unskilled and uneducated immigrants from Africa and elsewhere.

About 200 people demonstrated outside the French consulate, shouting "Sarkozy, racist," as he passed by. Some held banners telling him to go home, or reminding Sarkozy - himself the son of a Hungarian immigrant - of his immigrant origins.

Speaking before a meeting with Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure, Sarkozy saidFrance can no longer absorb unskilled immigrants and must be able to pick which immigrants get in.

The bill would make it easier for French authorities to hand-pick foreign workers, while making it harder for poor, uneducated people to come to France. It cleared a first legislative hurdle in France's lower house of parliament on Wednesday, the AP reports.

Sarkozy warned against branding attempts to reform France's immigration law as racist, saying such a reaction would work in the favor of the country's far right parties. A presidential hopeful, Sarkozy has said that one of his goals is to try to draw votes away from France's anti-immigration extreme right.

On Friday, Sarkozy travels to Cotonou, Benin, for a meeting with President Boni Yayi and to deliver a major speech on France's Africa policy.

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