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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Court Reverses Immigrant Expulsions

PARIS -- A Paris court Monday struck down expulsion orders against three of 10 African immigrants who staged a 52-day hunger strike for the right to stay in France, lawyers said.

Riot police ringed the administrative court as it considered appeals against expulsion orders for about 80 of 210 protesting immigrants forcibly ejected from a Paris church last week.

Lawyer Anne Bremaud said the court ruled that they could not be deported in view of their health. Police had said only one of the 10 would qualify for a residence permit, but the government has said it would not expel anyone seriously ill.

The 10 hunger strikers, most of them from Mali, called off their fast on Sunday after police released them.

"They have started taking mashed food as they are unable to eat any solid food. They are very tired," said their spokesman, Doro Traore.

An IPSOS opinion poll published by the daily Le Monde showed voters split on the government's policy to firmly enforce the hardline immigration laws while carrying out a case-by-case review of the protesters' situation on humanitarian grounds.

Forty-six percent approved and 46 percent rejected it.

The protesters were resting after moving their headquarters to a disused ammunition factory in the eastern Vincennes suburb. Some were enjoying the sunshine in the Vincennes park after weeks holed up in the Saint-Bernard church.

Lawyers managed to get most protesters released at the weekend in a legal battle to keep them in the country, prompting some media to accuse the government of confusion. "The Great Muddle," the left-wing daily Liberation said in a headline of the confusion about the legality of expulsion orders.

Police stood guard outside the court after riots broke out among sympathizers Sunday night when the court announced that it had rejected 12 of 20 appeals against expulsion.

Traore said all but 15 of the protesters were free and in the care of human rights groups.

Four were deported to Senegal, Mali and Zaire on a French air force plane at the weekend. Three others were jailed for to two to three months, and a few were still held.

Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debre has said 30 to 40 percent of the protesters would be allowed to stay in France. His adviser on immigration, Jean-Claude Barreau, told Liberation the percentage could reach two thirds.

President Jacques Chirac has pledged to stick to the strict 1993 laws, despite a furor from left-wing parties and human right groups, in order to send a "strong signal" to discourage potential immigrants from poor countries.

He promised to review details of the enforcement of the laws, which the protesters say outlawed immigrants previously living legally in France, and promote aid to poor nations.

With an eye on the anti-immigrant electorate of the far-right National Front, he said French people, regardless of their politics, felt "a growing irritation over immigration."

The IPSOS poll said 46 percent of voters sympathized with the protesting immigrants, to 36 percent who were hostile.

It showed the electorate divided on the 1993 "Pasqua" laws pushed through by then interior minister Charles Pasqua.

One third said they should be hardened while 20 percent favored a softening, 35 percent wanted them unchanged, and four percent repealed altogether.

Predictably, the far-right National Front, which has used immigration as a "wedge" issue to make strong showings in recent elections, found the authorities' actions "too soft," describing the decision to let some of the protestors to stay as "complete buffoonery" on the government's part. National Front officials called for all the immigrant protestors to be expelled.