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French homeless step up pressure

The plight of homeless families is in the spotlight in France after squatters moved into a vacant office block in Paris and also set up a tent city.

The office building, near the Paris stock exchange, has been nicknamed the „ministry for the housing crisis". Three housing lobby groups took it over and then invited families to move in. Homeless Parisians are also camping out in 200 tents by the Canal Saint Martin. The government is poised to announce new measures to help the homeless.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is to outline „right to housing" measures later on Wednesday, the French news agency AFP reports. The government is reported to have a €70 million ($90 million) emergency plan for the homeless. Homelessness is becoming an election issue ahead of April's presidential poll, with the two main candidates setting out their views. The conservative candidate, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, has appointed a lawyer to follow the squatters' case and the Socialist candidate, Segolene Royal, has spoken to a housing advocacy group. The squatters' campaign is being spearheaded by a group called Les Enfants de Don Quichotte (Children of Don Quixote).

The group has also set up makeshift camps in the southern port city of Marseille, as well as Orleans, Lyon and Toulouse. President Jacques Chirac has urged the government to speed up legislation to establish a legal right to housing - a key demand of the campaign groups for the homeless. France's Le Monde newspaper reports that the occupied office building in central Paris has been vacant since March 2004, but that a sale is due to go ahead on 8 January. A bailiff has ordered the squatters to leave. (BBC NEWS)