Paris Right-wing presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy reached out to France's youth Sunday with an appeal for brotherhood among races and religions, but refused to back off his proposal for a ministry of immigration and national identity.
Condemning Sarkozy's proposal - a clear outreach to the far right - has become a rare point of agreement for his rivals in the campaign. Some critics have said the idea evokes "the darkest hours" of France, a reference to the laws of France's Nazi puppet regime of World War II which had an agency for questions relating to Jews.
"I'm not afraid to defend the identity of France, of the republic, of the nation," Sarkozy said at a rally of some 8,000 youths, mainly from his own governing party, the Union for a Popular Majority. "If we don't talk about France how can we be surprised that what separates us ends up being bigger than what unites us?"
Mainstream candidates have tried to seduce extreme-right voters in every French presidential election. But Sarkozy, France's tough interior minister and the front-runner in all polls, stunned even some members of his own camp by proposing the new ministry 10 days ago.