“A territorial, social and ethnic apartheid has imposed itself on our country,” Valls told the press. “Social misery is coupled with the everyday discrimination over not having the right family name, skin colour or gender. This is not a question of making excuses - we have to face the reality of our country today."
Valls pledged to fight inequality in deprived areas on the outskirts of French cities, where there is often mass unemployment and a sense of exclusion from French social life.
Without referring specifically to this month's attacks by French-born Islamists in Paris, Valls said more needed to be done to ensure people from these areas felt like part of the nation.
“Every day we have to fight the terrible feeling that there are second-class citizens or some voices matter more than others,” he said.
Right-wing MP Pierre Lellouche judged Valls’s comment “excessive”.
“I don’t think it helps at all,” he said after the prime minister’s speech. “I know what apartheid meant in South Africa. It was a ban on a whole section of the South African population to get jobs, to develop and I don’t have the impression that the republic is doing that. Quite the contrary.”
Another member of the right-wing UMP, former defence minister and current MEP Michèle Alliot-Marie, did accept that there is division in French society today.
“Sunday’s huge demonstration showed that the vast majority of French people identify with the same values,” she told RFI. “That said, we have seen since that in some schools and on social networks that there could be a problem of social cohesion.”
The French press has reported that some school students refused to take part in the minute’s silence ordered by the government in tribute to the Charlie Hebdo victims.
On the left of Valls’s Socialist Party, MP Christian Paul called for action to follow the words.
“People shouldn’t be shocked by words,” he said. “It’s the reality that is shocking and it needs massive remedies. So we expect initiatives from the president of the republic and the government so that the republic’s forgotten territories can find concrete answers in the state’s actions.”
The Muslim employee of the kosher supermarket where Amedy Coulibaly killed four Jews was granted French citizenship yesterday.
Malian-born Lassana Bathily has been hailed a hero for hiding customers in a basement cold store during the attack.
Nearly 300,000 people signed a petition calling for him to be naturalised.