Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French President, has called for a burkini ban across France and said that immigrants, minorities and the Left are threatening to destroy French identity.

In the first major speech of his campaign to win back the office he lost in 2012, Sarkozy yesterday stole many of the ideas of France's far-Right National Front as he promised to reclaim France "for the French".

"I refuse to let the burkini impose itself in French beaches and swimming pools ... there must be a law to ban it throughout the Republic's territory," he said to thunderous applause at a speech in Provence, a stronghold of the National Front.

Sarkozy went on to demand that all minorities and immigrants speak French and promised - for example - that he would never accept a France where men and women had separate timetables at public swimming baths.


"Where is the authority when it is the minorities who govern? Never before has so much been ceded to them," said the 61-year-old who declared his candidacy on Monday.

"I will be the president that reestablishes the authority of the state," he said, saying he would protect the French and insisting it was not "fascist" to be concerned about security.

In a speech filled with conservative political red meat, Sarkozy also promised to institute compulsory military service for "dropouts" who were not employed or in fulltime education at the age of 18.

The speech was received with horror on the Left, with commentators on social media observing that Sarkozy sounded indistinguishable from Marine Le Pen, the National Front leader whom polls suggest could reach the second round runoff in the presidential election next year.

Sarkozy's speech came as the debate continued to rage in France over a ban on the burkini after armed police were photographed on a beach in Nice forcing a woman to remove her headscarf and other articles of clothing.

The images sparked an outcry on social media, which led Christian Estrosi, the Deputy Mayor of Nice, to threaten he would prosecute "those who spread photographs of our municipal police officers and those uttering threats against them on social networks".

Support for banning the all-covering swimsuits is not confined to the Right, however, with Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister again yesterday reiterating his belief that the burkini was a "symbol of the enslavement of women" and must be banned. "We have to wage a determined fight against radical Islam, against these religious symbols which are filtering into public spaces," he said in a television interview.