n He defends proposal of

ministry of national identity

and immigration.

BY ELAINE GANLEY

The Associated Press

PARIS - Right-wing presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy reached out to France's youth Sunday with an appeal for brotherhood among races and religions, but refused to back off his proposal for a ministry of immigration and national identity.

Condemning Sarkozy's proposal - a clear outreach to the far right - has become a rare point of agreement for his rivals in the campaign. Some critics have said the idea evokes "the darkest hours" of France, a reference to the laws of France's Nazi puppet regime of World War II which had an agency for questions relating to Jews.

"I'm not afraid to defend the identity of France, of the republic, of the nation," Sarkozy said at a rally of some 8,000 youths, mainly from his own governing party, the Union for a Popular Majority.

Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, Sarkozy's main rival in the April 22-May 6 two-round race, said Saturday it was "intolerable that one can think that normal immigration is a risk for the national identity." Centrist Francois Bayrou, the No. 3 candidate in polls, has also denounced the proposal.

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