PARIS - Marking a rightward shift in his re-election campaign, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has toughened his tone on immigration and halal meat in France in an effort to win over right-wing voters.
"We must reduce the number of arrivals on our territory," Sarkozy told supporters in the western city of Bordeaux on Saturday, March 3, Reuters reported.
Sarkozy, who is seeking re-election in the April-May ballot, said immigrants who do not respect France's secular values are not welcome.
"Those who come with the intention of not respecting our laws and our customs, of not respecting the property of others, of not sending their children to school, of not making an effort at integration, they are not welcome on French soil," he said.
The French leader vowed to end the automatic right of immigrants to be joined by their families if re-elected.
"You are not welcome in France if you are only coming to receive welfare. Everyone thinks it: it is time for republicans to say it."
France is home to up to six million Muslims, the largest Muslim minority in Europe.
Attitudes towards immigration and the Muslim minority have long been an important electoral issue in France.
Sarkozy's government has toughened its message on immigration and in January it trumpeted the deportation of a record number of illegal migrants in 2011.
He has set himself the goal of cutting legal migration to France to 150,000 people a year, having already cut the quota to 180,000 from 200,000 in past years.
Seeking to consolidate his support before the April-May election, Sarkozy holds electoral rallies on a weekly basis, with justice and immigration the latest topics.
Sarkozy suffered setbacks this week.
He was mobbed by left-wing militants and Basque activists on the campaign trail near the Spanish border and Hollande regained traction with a popular proposal to introduce a 75 percent tax rate for those earning more than 1 million euros a year.
Courting far-right voters, Sarkozy also called for a clear halal meat label in France.
"Let's recognize everyone's right to know what they're eating, halal or not, Sarkozy told supporters.
I'd like to see, therefore, the ticketing of meat according to its method of slaughter.
Far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen sparked a scandal last month by claiming that almost all meat in Paris was halal.
But Meat industry association, Interbev, denied the allegations.
The concept of halal -- meaning permissible in Arabic -- has traditionally been applied to food.
Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.
"We have to consider our holidays, the church and cathedral towers in our villages and towns, our eating habits, our morality, as aspects of our civilization not just our religion: the civilization of the French Republic," Sarkozy said.
An opinion poll on Sunday found that Sarkozy has lost ground to his Socialist rival Francois Hollande in the past two weeks of campaigning.
The poll for LH2-Yahoo showed Sarkozy losing 3 percentage points to 23 percent while Hollande slipped 1.5 percentage points but remained well ahead on 30.5 percent of voting intentions for the April 22 first round.
If the second round runoff were to be held today, Hollande would get 58 percent of votes and Sarkozy 42 percent.
Though polls show Hollande stands to win a May 6 runoff against Sarkozy by more than 12 percentage points, the question of where Le Pen's support would go in the second round could become decisive if that gap narrows.
At a meeting in Dijon, Hollande also portrayed himself as a defender of France's secular republican tradition and pledged to govern in the national interest, if elected, free from the influences both of his own party and of France's wealthy elites."The next president will be independent from his own party. I am a Socialist and I will remain it, but I will not act like just the head of my party."