French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s tough talk on Gypsies and immigrants has come in for a fierce backlash, drawing fire from the right, the left and the Catholic Church while failing to boost him in the polls, AFP reported.

With two years to go before he seeks re-election and with his popularity at an all-time low, Sarkozy has this month attempted to recapture the political initiative with a populist and racially-tinged law and order message.

Police have begun rounding up and expelling Roma from Eastern Europe and dismantling unauthorised Gypsy campgrounds, while Sarkozy has threatened to strip some foreign-born French criminals of their nationality.

Polls in France indicate the xenophobic policy has failed to rally voters behind Sarkozy, whose popularity numbers are flagging.

Political scientist Jean-Luc Parodi said that while Sarkozy had won some support from backers of the far-right National Front, he had “shocked” most centrist and left-wing sympathisers, AFP reported.

Meanwhile, France’s race relations problems have drawn criticism from international bodies such as the Vatican and the United Nations.