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French Police Arrest 19 Islamic Radicals, Sarkozy Says

Just over a week after killing a self-declared jihadist who murdered seven people in the Toulouse area, French police arrested 19 people involved in radical Islamist networks across the country.

“These arrests are linked to the world of a certain sort of radical Islam,” President Nicolas Sarkozy said in an interview today with Europe1 radio.

Kalashnikov automatic weapons were found in the homes of some of those arrested, he said, adding that there may be additional raids across the country. Sarkozy said the arrests aren’t related to Mohamed Merah, who murdered three soldiers, and slayed three children and a French-Israeli teacher at a Jewish school in a nine-day shooting spree this month.

Sarkozy, who faces an election in 23 days, has sought in recent days to show he’s tough on security issues. France yesterday decided to deny visas to four Islamic preachers who had been invited to an Islamic conference next month.

“What must be understood is that the trauma of Montauban and Toulouse is profound for our country, a little -- I don’t want to compare the horrors -- a little like the trauma that followed in the United States and in New York after the September 11, 2001 attacks,” he told Europe 1.

The arrests took place in and around cities including Paris, Marseille, Nice, Nantes and Toulouse, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the police.

Opposition Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon called the comparison of the shootings in the Toulouse area to the attacks on Sept. 11 as “totally disproportionate,” AFP said.

Narrowing Poll Gap

Sarkozy has narrowed the gap in support against Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in the decisive second round of the presidential election.

Sarkozy would get 47 percent of the votes if a run off were held now, compared with 53 percent for Hollande, according to a CSA poll for BFM TV, 20 Minutes newspaper and RMC radio yesterday. That leaves a six-point gap, down from eight points a week earlier and the smallest yet seen for the second round.

French voters chose their president for the coming five years in two sets of votes scheduled for April 22 and May 6. Sarkozy leads in the first round by a 30-to-26 margin, up from 30-to28 a week ago, the CSA poll showed.

Hollande has consistently led Sarkozy in second-round polls since he declared his candidacy last year.

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