French Prime Minister Decries 'Apartheid' in French Ghettos

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls delivers a speech during a cabinet meeting on equality and citizenship in Vaulx-en-Velin near Lyon, France, April 13. French cigarette brands want to meet Valls to discuss the implementation of an EU directive that cracks down on tobacco marketing. Robert Pratta/Reuters

France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls has vowed to end the "apartheid" in impoverished neighbourhoods after backing a ban on Islamic headscarves in universities.

Valls led a group of ministers on a visit to Vaulx-en-Velin, near Lyon, where he addressed the local community on combating marginalisation of France's banlieues, regional newspaper Le Dauphiné Libéré reports.

"When one believes in the Republic, we can not accept this reality of unequal potential," Valls said, stressing the need for greater "equality and citizenship" within banlieues.

Valls spoke as he unveiled new legislation intended to halt high youth unemployment, poor school performance and juvenile delinquency in the poor "ghettos" of France. He vowed to combat "apartheid" in Lyon and elsewhere, after first comparing Vaulx-en-Velin's problems to "territorial, social and ethnic apartheid."

But in a long interview with the French daily newspaper Libération published on Tuesday, Valls suggested Islamic rules were not compatible with the French Republic's laws. When asked whether Islamic headscarves should be banned from universities, Valls replied "It should be done."

The French prime minister received a backlash for his comments on the garment by some of his own fellow party members as Thierry Mandon, the higher education minister, said students "have every right to wear a headscarf."