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No pardons in France this Bastille Day

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

PARIS – President Nicolas Sarkozy said he will not offer mass pardons to France’s prisoners on Bastille Day, keeping up his law-and-order reputation and breaking with tradition.

Sarkozy said in an interview published Sunday he had been presented with a decree proposing the release of 3,000 prisoners on the July 14 holiday, which commemorates the 1789 storming of the Bastille prison in Paris. The event started the revolution that rid France of its monarchy.

“There will be no mass pardon,” Sarkozy told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, confirming a pledge he made during his presidential campaign this spring.

Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, and previous leaders had used the pardons to relieve chronic overcrowding in French prisons.

“Since when has the right to pardon served as a way to manage prisons?” Sarkozy said.

Prisoners’ rights groups and prison guards had supported the mass pardons, which excluded several categories of violent or dangerous inmates.

Sarkozy, who took office May 16, said he would grant pardons on a case-by-case basis for “humanitarian or exceptional reasons.”

“Someone jumps in the Seine River and saves three drowning children. It turns out he has a criminal record. The presidential pardon could play a role here,” he said.

Chirac came under fire for using presidential pardons for personal reasons when he cleared his friend and former athlete Guy Drut of corruption charges last year.

France’s prisons house nearly 61,000 prisoners but were built to take only 50,000 inmates.

Prison officers have expressed concern about a backlash by inmates expecting a pardon, and a new crush of inmates because of a draft law championed by Sarkozy imposing minimum sentences for repeat offenders.

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