Hollande: France's democracy will beat barbarism

French President Francois Hollande (8 Sept) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The French president said that France's secular identity did not run counter to religion

French President Francois Hollande has given a powerful defence of his country's fight against terrorism, insisting that France will defeat its enemies because democracy always wins.

He said the battle against the "terrorists of Daesh (so-called Islamic State)" would be long and hard but they would be tracked down and annihilated.

Mr Hollande was speaking after deadly jihadist attacks in Rouen and in Nice.

There have also been fears this week of a new attack in central Paris.

Police arrested two couples after a Peugeot 607 car was found packed with gas cylinders near Notre Dame cathedral on Sunday.

The car's hazard lights were flashing and notes in Arabic were found in the car, although officials said there was no detonator inside.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Soldiers were on patrol outside Notre Dame on Wednesday after news of the first arrests

The first couple, said to have known links to jihadists, were detained at a service station in the south of France. Another couple were picked up in the Loiret region to the south of Paris late on Wednesday.

Both couples were thought to come from the town of Montargis. The car's owner was questioned and later released, but anti-terrorist police are searching for his 19-year-old daughter who is described as radicalised.

In a lengthy speech on Thursday, President Hollande said that it was incumbent on all of France - Muslims and non-Muslims - to tackle radical Islam.

He launched a defence of France's strict secular separation of the state from religion. "Nothing in the idea of secularism opposes the practice of Islam in France, provided it respects the law."

Attack on Sarkozy

The speech was being closely watched by political commentators, who said he had given his biggest signal so far of planning to stand for a second term in next year's presidential election.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Nicolas Sarkozy will formally become a candidate for the Republicans' presidential nomination on Friday

Although he is widely expected to run, Mr Hollande's approval ratings have fallen so low that opinion polls suggest as many as nine out of 10 French voters do not want him as a candidate.

Commentators noted that the speech included a series of attacks on the centre-right Republicans, in particular on ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, a front-runner in the race to be Republican candidate.

Without naming him, Mr Hollande criticised a remark made by Mr Sarkozy after the murder of a priest in Rouen and of 86 people on the seafront at Nice in July.

Mr Sarkozy called at the time for strong measures, complaining that "legal niceties, cautious measures and excuses for half-hearted measures are intolerable".

But in his speech, President Hollande argued that constitutional principles such as freedom of expression, movement and worship were not "legal niceties". And, in a direct reference to Mr Sarkozy's own legal troubles, he asked: "Is being presumed innocent (a legal nicety)? It's pretty useful when you're defending yourself."

Prosecutors say Mr Sarkozy should face trial for breaching spending limits during the 2012 presidential campaign.

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