PARIS, Nov 3, 2006 (AFP) – Unions at Paris’s main airport said Friday they plan to call for a strike over the withdrawal of security badges from scores of airport workers, mostly Muslims, denouncing it as discrimination.
Officials said Thursday that 72 workers at the Charles de Gaulle-Roissy international airport had been stripped of their security clearance since May 2005 for suspected links to Islamic extremists and other fundamentalist groups.
“We are going to call for a strike at the end of November and for a rally outside the prefecture in Roissy,” which took the decision to remove the staff badges, said Didier Frassin, the head of the main CGT union at the airport.
Seven unions were to hold a meeting on Tuesday to decide whether to back the strike call and what further action to take.
Unions have already filed a complaint for discrimination and the French anti-discrimination agency HALDE is also investigating the matter.
Jacques Lebrot, the Roissy deputy prefect, said Thursday the workers had been “linked to fundamentalist movements with potentially terrorist aims.”
The “great majority” were linked to an “Islamist movement”, although badges were also taken away from “just under a dozen” people suspected of links to Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger rebels as well as from one Sikh worker, he said.
One was allegedly in regular contact with an associate of the British “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid, who was convicted of trying to blow up an American Airlines Paris to Miami flight in 2001.
But union leaders say many have been unfairly targeted.
“The deputy prefect is just making allegations, not proving anything. We are waiting for proof of the threat these employees represent “” not just shock statements,” said Philippe Decrulle, CFDT union leader at Air France.
“It is all totally vague, they have nothing to go on, it’s a scandal,” said Daniel Saadat, a lawyer for a group of workers who have appealed the decision.
But Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said officials were obliged to withdraw the security clearances as a “precaution”.
“Each time we withdrew a badge, it was because we had elements that allowed us to do so. Me, I have a duty which is a duty of precaution. In the Roissy zone, you can get close to planes, there are millions of passengers,” he said.
“It’s quite right that the police services conduct inquiries and only certify those people we are certain about.”
He also rejected the argument that ordinary Muslims were being discriminated against purely on the grounds of their faith.
“The Muslims in France have nothing to do with this. Islam can be practised without a problem. Where there is a problem is with extremism,” he said.