PARIS // Muslims are being used as "scapegoats" in the French election campaign in which halal slaughter has become a hot-button issue, the French Council of the Muslim Faith said yesterday.
The statement came a day after the prime minister, Francois Fillon, urged Muslims and Jews to consider scrapping their "outdated" halal and kosher slaughter rules.
The council, asked about Mr Fillon's comment on halal, said it "does not accept that Islam and Muslims be used as scapegoats in this [election] campaign".
Richard Prasquier, the head of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish organisations, said on Monday that he was "shocked" by Mr Fillon's "stupefying" declaration.
The comments came as President Nicolas Sarkozy and his ministers kept up their efforts to woo far-right voters from the anti-immigrant National Front led by Marine Le Pen.
Ms Le Pen launched the halal debate last month when she claimed that all meat from abattoirs in the Paris region was prepared using halal traditions.
It later emerged that these abattoirs mostly supplied local Muslim butchers and that most meat sold in Paris came from outside the region.
France is home to western Europe's largest Jewish community, estimated at up to 700,000, and its largest Muslim minority, officially estimated at four million.
The country has for years been debating how far it is willing to go to accommodate Islam, now France's second religion.
Mr Sarkozy's government has come under fire from Muslim groups for a series of measures implemented during his five-year rule that authorities say are aimed at protecting France's secular tradition.
These include a ban on wearing full-face veils such as the niqab and the burqa.
France will vote in the first round of a presidential election on April 22, followed by a second-round run-off on May 6.
The Socialist candidate Francois Hollande is well ahead of Mr Sarkozy in the polls.